The Heat Is Online

Big Coal: "Global Warming Is Good For Us" (1998)

In 1991, the Western Fuels Association spent $250,000 to produce a propaganda video which was shown extensively in the George Bush White House as well as in the capitals of OPEC. Titled "The Greening of Planet Earth," the video is narrated by Dr. Sherwood Idso, a "greenhouse skeptic" who was also scheduled to participate in the coal industry's "ICE" public relations campaign. The film was produced by a company headed by Idso's wife and funded by the coal industry. The video promises a new age of agricultural abundance will result from the doubling of the atmosphere's concentration of carbon dioxide. It predicts increases of 30 to 60 percent in the yields of soybeans, cotton, wheat and other crops -- enough to provide food and clothing for earth's expanding human population.

Tellingly, Idso's son, Keith E. Idso, conceded under oath that he had published findings about the benefits of global warming in The New American, the magazine of the ultra-conservative John Birch Society.

Unfortunately, the video overlooks two elements. The first one is the bugs.

A panel of the World Health and World Meteorological Organizations and the UN Environmental Programme has noted that even a minor elevation in temperature would trigger an explosion in the planet's insect population. Given the extreme sensitivity of insects to temperature, even a slight warming, the panel suggests, could lead to significant disruption in food supplies from insect- related crop damage as well as to a surge in the spread of insect- borne diseases. The WHO-WMO-UNEP panel noted that the Aedes aegypti mosquito which spreads dengue fever and Yellow Fever has traditionally been unable to survive higher than 1,000 meters. But, with recent warming trends, those mosquitoes are now being reported at 1,240 meters in Costa Rica and 2,200 meters in Colombia. Malaria-bearing mosquitoes have also moved to higher elevations in Central Africa, Asia and other parts of Latin America, paralleling the movement of plants to higher altitudes and triggering new outbreaks of infectious disease.

The second omission from the video is even more unconscionable.

While more warming -- and more CO2 -- may temporarily increase plant growth in the far north, it will devastate food crops in the poorest and most highly populated areas of the globe. An increase in carbon dioxide and a rise of, for example, one-half degree in the average temperature, will trigger a significant decline in the rice yields in Southeast Asia and as much as a 25 percent drop in the wheat yields in India. Agronomist Cynthia Rosenzweig, of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and Dr. Daniel Hillel, professor emeritus of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, wrote in a 1995 issue of the journal Consequences that food crops in the middle latitudes are currently growing at optimum levels of temperature, humidity and daylight. "When temperatures exceed the optimal for biological processes, crops often respond negatively -- with a steep drop in net growth and yield." Contrary to the coal industry's propaganda video, The authors conclude: "...vulnerability to climate change is systematically greater in developing countries -- which, in most cases, are located in lower, warmer latitudes. In those regions, cereal grain yields are projected to decline under climate change scenarios, across the full range of expected warming...Thus, countries with the lowest incomes may be the hardest hit."

In April, 1998, the coal industry trotted out the same old strategy yet again in the form of a new organization named The Greening Earth Society (GES). According to a GES press release, "the founders of GES made it their stated mission to share the good news about our adaptable climate; namely, that nature is growing stronger and greener as human activity causes the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration to rise."The GES is circulating a new video -- very similar in content to the 1991 video -- and has shown it in conjunction with appearances by a panel of scientists which includes Dr. Patrick Michaels, Dr. Sallie Baliunas of the Harvard- Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Dr. Robert Balling of Arizona State University; and Sylvan Wittwer, director emeritus, Michigan State University Agricultural Experiment Station.