Book Review

Book cover image
The Satanic Gases:
Clearing the Air about Global Warming

P.J. Michaels and R. C. Balling, Jr.
Cato Institute, 2000, 234 pages


I s it time to start sweating about global warming? This book, from the Cato Institute, a respected libertarian think tank, describes how the idea of anthropogenic climate change emerged in the mid-1980s not from respected scientific laboratories, but as part of an overall philosophy, centered in the United Nations, that advocated the transfer of wealth from rich nations to poor ones. The resulting torrent of hot air coming from environmental groups undoubtedly has been enough to raise the temperature under the collars of skeptics by several degrees centigrade.

The Satanic Gases presents a summary of the scientific data concerning climate and the scandalously inaccurate climate prediction models used in the IPCC reports, using non-technical language that makes it accessible to laymen. It is far more readable than the U.S. Government Environmental Protection Agency's U.S. Climate Action Report 2002, the conclusions of which the New York Times found so exciting, but which was written in a form of government bureaucratese that could be used by dentists as a replacement for Novocain.

In 1985 the UN Environment Program (UNEP) held a joint conference with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), into which UNEP evolved, was founded with the explicit goal of finding a ``basis for ... a strategy to address climate change.'' Founded on the assumption that global warming is occurring, the goal of the IPCC was to formulate an international treaty to combat it that eventually became known as the Kyoto Protocol. To this end, the IPCC needed to present a fašade of consensus to convince policy makers that urgent action was needed. However, in so doing, the IPCC sacrificed its scientific objectivity. John Houghton, a senior scientist for the IPCC, made the following statement that is typical of the IPCC's partisan approach:

Such policies like cutting energy use by more than 50 percent can contribute powerfully to the material salvation of the planet from mankind's greed and indifference.
This statement, loaded with terms charged with emotion, if not religious fervor, would never be accepted in a scientific journal. Indeed, no reputable climatologist who wished to remain respected would make such a statement in any venue, any more than an aeronautical engineer could make fanciful statements about UFOs without facing ridicule from colleagues.

Another famous line from the 1996 IPCC report is this one:

Warmer temperatures will lead to ... more severe droughts and/or floods in some places and less severe droughts and/or floods in others.
In other words, global warming will produce either droughts or floods, or maybe both, or maybe it will prevent droughts or floods, or maybe it will prevent both. They have all the bases covered.

In the sudden torrential flood of research funding that followed the IPCC's declaration of global warming, many climatologists began to assert definitive conclusions from the most evanescent of statistical trends. The authors quote one climatologist who concluded that the satellite microwave measurements show a statistically-significant warming trend of 0.05°/decade in the Northern Hemisphere; but the data in the accompanying graph show that the definition of significance used by the climatologist was a very liberal one indeed. A researcher presenting such a conclusion in any other field from data like this would be laughed off the podium. In any event, the authors of Satanic Gases correctly interpret the `trend' in the microwave data as having been caused, not by global warming, but by a temperature spike caused by the (for now) dearly departed El Ni˝o.

Many scientists in other fields, accustomed to models that accurately predict real phenomena, have found little credible support for the huge climate changes predicted by the climatologists' simulations. Few non-climate models, of course, try to extend predictions of chaotic phenomena 100 years into the future. Despite this, the new gospel of incipient catastrophic climate change has found enthusiastic acceptance in Europe, which is struggling to cope with continental military and economic weakness and post-Cold War cultural anomie. Indeed, for many Europeans, moralizing about Kyoto is a roundabout way of trying to diminish relative American influence by pressuring it to accept crippling restrictions on its rate of growth of industrial production. It is no surprise, then, that the largest carbon dioxide reductions called for by the treaty are to be made by the United States, while European nations, mainly because of their slower rates of economic growth, would be required to make few if any sacrifices, and third-world nations like Mainland China, India, and Mexico have no obligations whatsoever under the treaty.

The results are discussed from a skeptical viewpoint, in a more or less fair and balanced manner, but mostly without citations; however, the book contains numerous careless misstatements. For example, it says that ozone breaks down to OH- (hydroxide ion), instead of hydroxyl radical (OH.). In other places, the authors refer to seemingly nonexistent figures that are actually color plates located elsewhere in the book. The infamous IPCC statement that predicted "greater or lesser severity of droughts and/or floods" is also variously attributed to a 1995 and a 1996 IPCC report. However, these mistakes are mostly trivial ones.

The Satanic Gases provides a concise executive summary of the global warming issue from a moderate, skeptical point of view. Skepticism, not the quasi-religious fervor of John Houghton, is the appropriate tone for scientists to take. It is important for scientists to voice their concerns to policymakers about the faulty data collection techniques, flawed climate models, unreconciled inconsistencies among different data sets, and the numerous examples of plain old innumeracy that pervade the field. Otherwise, whatever credibility scientists have left on climate issues could be permanently undermined. The issues this book raises have to be addressed before an accurate assessment of global warming can be made.

July 4, 2002 Back