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Once More On Climate Change

by Rudy M. Baum
September 10, 2012 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 90, ISSUE 37

In early January 1999, NASA scientists determined that 1998 had been the hottest year on record to that time. In the Jan. 25, 1999, issue of C&EN, I wrote a Science Insights titled “Wintertime Reflections on Global Warming.” The essay concluded with the following paragraph:

“It has dawned on me over the past year, after a winter that didn’t occur and as one month after another rolled in as the warmest on record, that right now, this very year, humanity’s fortunes may have begun to shift and that a story was beginning to unfold that would dominate the news for the next few centuries. It won’t be a happy story. And I think future generations will hold us in deep contempt if we don’t at least begin to make the effort to alleviate the disaster that awaits them.”

The year 2005 surpassed 1998 as the hottest on record; it’s now clear that 2012 will surpass 2005. Each of the past 11 years (2001–11) is one of the 12 hottest years since instrumental temperature records began in the 19th century. The 20 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1987. These are facts—not speculation, not the result of a climate model—recorded from several thousand meteorological stations around the world.

On Aug. 27, scientists at the University of Colorado’s National Snow & Ice Data Center reported that Arctic sea ice extent fell to 1.58 million sq miles, 27,000 sq miles below the record low daily sea ice extent set on Sept. 18, 2007 (C&EN, Sept. 3, page 11). According to a University of Colorado press release, “Since the summer Arctic sea ice minimum normally does not occur until the melt season ends in mid- to late September, the CU-Boulder research team expects the sea ice extent to continue to dwindle for the next two or three weeks.” Again, this is a fact, not speculation or the result of a climate model.

So when climate-change deniers say, as they regularly do, that global temperatures have been falling, that is a lie. When climate-change deniers say, as they regularly do, that the extent of Arctic sea ice is increasing, that is a lie.

In my nearly nine years as editor-in-chief of C&EN, I have written numerous editorials on climate change. Too many, some readers insist. I should have focused more on chemistry, the chemical industry, the bleak job situation some chemists face. It is hard for me to understand this attitude. I wrote about those subjects, regularly, but climate disruption is the greatest challenge facing humanity today, and we continue to do next to nothing about it.

At the ACS national meeting in Philadelphia, Mario J. Molina, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, and winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on chlorofluorocarbons and stratospheric ozone depletion, gave a presidential keynote address on “Chemistry and Climate Change.” “Climate change is a grand challenge facing humanity, but it can be solved,” Molina said. “We have the solutions in hand.” Those solutions—including putting a price on carbon emissions, dramatically increasing investments in energy research, and expanding international cooperation—are likely to cost on the order of 1 to 2% of world GDP, he said, much less than the cost of unchecked climate change, which could easily reach 4 to 5% of world GDP.

At a presidential symposium in Philadelphia on “Communicating Controversial Science,” Nate Lewis, the George L. Argyros Professor of Chemistry at Caltech, gave a talk titled “The End of Fossil Fuels.” Lewis made a number of observations about Earth’s atmosphere and changing climate. The statements, he said, were true, but he acknowledged that they did not constitute proof that human activities were changing the climate. The question, he said, is, “Do we feel lucky?”

“Energy is the challenge for chemistry,” Lewis concluded. “Our energy past, present, and future lies with chemistry, but chemists have not yet fully embraced that challenge. If chemists don’t solve the energy challenge, in the one chance we get to solve it, it won’t be solved.”

I urge chemists to embrace that challenge for the sake of future generations.

Thanks for reading.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



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Engineer (September 10, 2012 1:47 PM)
I think you should get a real job for awhile. You'll find fudging the data doesn't get you anywhere.
Hiam Chipman (September 10, 2012 2:11 PM)
You are hopless as usual in thinking that humans have to do anything with climate change, you can't get it! If there is a climate change, it is caused by natural causes! Do you think that is another lie like you are accusing all global warming deniers of being liars? May be you are the one!
Eddie (September 10, 2012 8:53 PM)
Don't bother trying to reason with these people. 100 years of records.. out of SIXBILLION years.. THAT'S what they base this crap on.. unbelievable.
Neil Gussman (September 10, 2012 3:20 PM)
Rudy--Your editorial reminded me that the people people who fight to keep Creationism out of science classes decided to add climate change denial to their work--since the two strains of American nuttiness are often found together. It was chilling to hear Eugenie Scott (at the seminar in your honor) say that chemists have a higher proportion of Creationists in their number when compared to physics, biology and other sciences.
Thanks for writing.
Manley Kjonaas (September 10, 2012 7:40 PM)
As a Chemical Engineer I cannot believe that such a small trace amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can have any noticeable affect on climate. The moisture content in air has a proven much more noticeable affect, as can be seen by a passing cloud on a hot summer day.
Jim (September 11, 2012 4:38 PM)
Humans put out about 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year. To me that seems to be more than a trace amount.
Chris G (September 14, 2012 12:44 AM)
As a CE, maybe you should refresh your understanding of thermodynamics, or maybe you think that we know nothing about the absorption and emission by gas molecules, despite discovering that about 150 years ago.

If you are any kind of engineer at all, you will understand how MODTRAN and HITRAN work, but you don't seem to, so...
David Strickler (September 18, 2012 10:45 AM)
I work for a major glass manufacturing company and am very familiar with how low concentration compoents can affect heat transfer. For example, normal soda-lime silica glass (i.e. the clear glass used in your home windows) contains 500 - 1000 ppm of iron oxides. The raw materials are melted by flames firing across the surface of the glass batch, which means the heat transfer is primarily radiative. The "traces" of iron in the batch absorb this radiative energy more effectively than the silica, sodium, or alkaline earth components. In order to make glass for solar applications, the iron content needs to be reduced to <200ppm to increase the light transmission. However, by reducing the iron content, the energy radiated by the flames is not absorbed by the batch material. The radiated energy passes through the glass and heats up the furnace bottom excessively. The difference in heat transfer also changes the convection currents in the furnace. In order to make low iron glass, you need to construct the furnace with different materials and operate it differently. Thus, small components can have a significant effect on the process and on the financial bottom line.
Chad (September 10, 2012 7:50 PM)
" If there is a climate change, it is caused by natural causes!"

Citation, please. Peer-reviewed only. Needs to have details about this supposed "natural" cause and how it is consistent with the observed warming and other more specific observed phenomenon, such as stratospheric cooling, reduced out-going radiative flux, greater warming at night and near the poles than during the day or in the equatorial areas, etc. The paper(s) must also demonstrate why CO2 is NOT the cause of these observed phenomenon, despite the match between current theory and observation.

Thanks in advance.
Tony (September 13, 2012 7:39 AM)
"The paper(s) must also demonstrate why CO2 is NOT the cause of these observed phenomenon"
Obviously not some one who has any scientific understanding, YOU CANNOT prove a negative. It for you to prove a causal link.

"despite the match between current theory and observation"
Correlation is not causation.
Eddie (September 10, 2012 8:51 PM)
"These are facts—not speculation, not the result of a climate model—recorded from several thousand meteorological stations around the world."

There are countless climate experts who say otherwise, thus they are not facts.

But to the bigger picture. Climate records have been kept for roughly 100 years. Do you think, maybe,... just maybe.. in the last SIX BILLION YEARS when no records were kept, there might have been some hotter years??????? Maybe about a few million or so of them? Think it's possible? Oh, no no no, can't have that "crazy" thinking.
Mark (September 12, 2012 12:20 PM)
100 years out of SIX BILLION? Some questions for you to ponder, wise Eddie.

How old is our planet? How many of those years was our atmosphere reducing (rich in hydrogen gas and/or methane gas and CO2)? When did oxygen reach significant levels? Is 4.5 billion years, or 2 billion, or 0.1 billion even relevant to the modern climate issue? (If you want to think in multi-billion year time frames, then we're all doomed. Unless we can figure out how to stop the sun from becoming a red giant.)

Isn't the rational debate about rapid climate change caused by a rapid shift in the earth's carbon cycle? Aren't the CO2 levels we've reached unprecedented in the last 600k years? Can't geoscientists use core data to examine conditions farther back than 100 years?!?!? And aren't rational folks talking about threats to the economy, infrastructure, and the human condition that will occur in our lifetimes? Our childrens' lifetimes? Our grandkids' lifetimes? Is anybody is thinking about preserving the climate for 6 billion years into the future? Or are they really talking about minimizing disruption in the coming century? And how can we adapt to the disruption that we've already locked in?
JohnRiggs (September 11, 2012 4:45 AM)
Peer reviewed only ???

You mean of course, only those who agree with you.
John M (September 11, 2012 5:19 PM)
"Chemical & Engineering News Serving The Chemical, Life Sciences & Laboratory Worlds"

Apparently by crying wolf. Unfortunately for the Team, the big, bad wolf called CO2 has no teeth. After another decade or so of increasing CO2 and insignificant warming, we'll have to move on to the next global crisis requiring binding international agreement to roll back the industrial revolution. For decades now, advocates for a fewer-people-less-resource-consumption ailing earth remedy have been desperately seeking a really scary problem whose man-made character can be propped up long enough to catalyze their preferred global action. Utterly predictable and utterly unscientific. Yawn.
MikeC (September 13, 2012 11:34 AM)
The facts presented here regarding the annual temperature record may indeed be facts but with omissions. In other words, which data set are those facts from?

Here is a data set that contradicts those facts:

Since 1979, 1998 has been the warmest year with 2010 second. 2012 looks to be headed for lower than either.

It appears that this editorial is claiming a fact when in reality it is a clear case of cherry-picking.
Chad (September 13, 2012 9:23 PM)
As if cherry-picking the most outlying years in the most favorable temperature record from a partisan source isn't "cherry picking".

Sigh. I don't think you know what that expression means.

MikeC (September 18, 2012 2:27 PM)
Thanks Chad, you proved my point, we were both cherry picking. The difference is that I didn't state my cherry picking as a "facts".
High School Student (September 25, 2012 10:18 PM)
These comments against Global Warming have no gravity. The changes are real. I don't want a second-handed, soiled Earth handed down to me. Most scientists believe in Global Warming (~98)(Alliance for Climate Education, Information). Industrialized nations, except the United States, acknowledge the warming climate as an effect of human activity.

If you don't trust the facts, you have a motive. It's also hard to believe that these comments were made by separate people, all against global warming, all on the same day as the article was published.

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