Climate Alarmism from Edward Teller in 1959


What caught my interest was the following comment

Researchers Naomi Oreskes and Geoffrey Supran were among those propping up the litigation, which seeks to hold Chevron responsible for the damage climate change has played on city infrastructure.

The link is to an Amicus Brief submitted by Dr. Naomi Oreskes, Dr. Geoffrey Supran, Dr. Robert Brulle, Dr. Justin Farrell, Dr. Benjamin Franta and Professor Stephan Lewandowsky. I looked at the Supran and Oreskes paper Assessing ExxonMobil’s Climate Change Communications (1977–2014) in a couple of posts back in September 2017. Professor Lewandowsky on probably gets more mentions on this blog than any other.

The Introduction starts with the following allegation against Chevron

At least fifty years ago, Defendants-Appellants (hereinafter, “Defendants”) had information from their own internal research, as well as from the international scientific community, that the unabated extraction, production, promotion, and sale of their fossil fuel products would result in material dangers to the public. Defendants failed to disclose this information or take steps to protect the public. They also acted affirmatively to conceal their knowledge and discredit climate science, running misleading nationwide marketing campaigns and funding junk science to manufacture uncertainty, in direct contradiction to their own research and the actions they themselves took to protect their assets from climate change impacts such as sea level rise.

This are pretty serious allegations to make against a major corporation, so I have been reading with great interest the Amicus Brief and started making notes. As an ardent climate sceptic, I started reading with trepidation. Maybe there would be starkly revealed to me the real truth of climate denial. Instead, it has made very entertaining reading. After a three thousand words of notes and having only got up to 1972 in the story, I have decided to break up the story into a few separate posts.

Edward Teller 1959

The Amicus Brief states

In 1959, physicist Edward Teller delivered the first warning of the dangers of global warming to the petroleum industry, at a symposium held at Columbia University to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the industry. Teller described the need to find energy sources other than fossil fuels to mitigate these dangers, stating, “a temperature rise corresponding to a 10 per cent increase in carbon dioxide will be sufficient to melt the icecap and submerge New York. All the coastal cities would be covered, and since a considerable percentage of the human race lives in coastal regions, I think that this chemical contamination is more serious than most people tend to believe.”

Edward Teller was at the height of his fame, beingcredited with developing the world’s first thermonuclear weapon, and he became known in the United States as “the father of the H-bomb.” At the height of the cold war it must have been quite a coup to have one of the world’s leading physicists and noted anti-communist to give an address. As top executives from all the major oil companies would have been there, I would not sure they would have greeted the claims with rapturous applause. More likely thought the Professor has caught some new religion. They might have afterwards made some inquiries. Although climatology was in its infancy, the oil majors would have teams of geologists, who could make enquiries. The geologists  may have turned up the Revelle and Suess 1957 paper Carbon Dioxide Exchange Between Atmosphere and Ocean and the Question of an Increase of Atmospheric CO2 during the Past Decades, 9 Tellus 18 (1957) that is mentioned in the previous paragraph of the Amicus Brief.

Revelle and Suess state in the Introduction

(A) few percent increase in the CO2 content of the air, even if it has occurred, might not produce an observable increase in average air temperature near the ground in the face of fluctuations due to other causes. So little is known about the thermodynamics of the atmosphere that it is not certain whether or how a change in infrared back radiation from the upper air would affect the temperature near the surface. Calculations by PLASS (1956) indicate that a 10% increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide would increase the average temperature by 0.36oC. But amplifying or feed-back processes may exist such that a slight change in the character of the back radiation might have a more pronounced effect.

So some experts in the field report that it is uncertain how much warming could occur from a small rise in CO2 levels. The only actual estimate is 0.36oC from a 10% rise. So how could that melt the icecap and flood New York? If this was first introduction that oil executives had to the concept of CO2-induced global warming might they have become a little on their guard about any future, more moderate, claims?

They would have been right to be uneasy. 1959 was the first full year CO2 levels were monitored at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. The mean CO2 Level for that year was 315.97 ppm. The 10% increase was passed in 1987, and for 2018 the figure was 408.52 ppm, 29.3% higher. The polar icecaps are still in place. From Sea Level Info, tide gauges show linear sea level rises over the last 59 years of  7.6 inches for Washington DC; 6.9 inches for Philadelphia 6.9 inches, and 6.6 inches for Battery at the tip of Lower Manhattan . This assumes a linear rise over 60 years.

The chart for The Battery, NY shows no discernible acceleration in the last 60 years, despite the acceleration in the rate of CO2 rise shown in green. It is the same for the other tide gauges.

The big question here is that 60 years later, what were the authors of the Amicus Brief thinking when they quoted such a ridiculous claim?

Kevin Marshall

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