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Archive for Sunday, July 1, 2001

Geologists dispute influence of humans on climate change

July 1, 2001

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A group of geologists led by the Kansas Geological Survey is running headfirst into the fight over global warming.

Lee Gerhard, principal geologist at KGS, and William Harrison, deputy director at KGS, have edited a book that says increased use of fossil fuels has little effect on climactic changes.

"Human influence in natural processes is probably pretty minimal," Gerhard said.

The belief of Gerhard and his colleagues, writing in "Geological Perspectives of Global Climate Change," places them in the enemy camp of many scientists and environmentalists.

Mark Helm, spokesman for Friends of the Earth, a national environmental organization, laughed when asked to respond to the book.

He said most leading scientists believe greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide from burned fossil fuels, are trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere and changing the planet's climate.

The rise in global temperatures, according to some scientists, will result in widespread famine, flooding and social upheaval.

Helm said the geologists' conclusions were meant to support the petroleum industry, which has spent billions of dollars trying to debunk theories about global warming and dampen enthusiasm for alternative fuel sources.

The book was published by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, based in Tulsa, Okla.

"They started out to prove what they wanted to prove," Helm said.

But Gerhard and Harrison deny any conflict of interest.

In the preface of the book, they write: "The editors and individual authors were not financially supported by any industrial or similar organizations. None of the contributing authors is currently a practicing petroleum geologist, although several have had broad and successful experience in that profession."

In an interview, Gerhard said, "It's our moral obligation to bring real science to the people."

Gerhard and Harrison contributed an article to the book that says global climates were shaped over millions of years by the positioning of the earth, the variation of solar energy received by the planet and the movement of land and water masses.

In addition, volcanic eruptions and meteor crashes have had smaller effect on climate change, they argue.

Compared to these forces, humans' increased use of fossil fuels over the past century has had little effect on the earth's temperature, they say.

"Our climate changes all the time and in both directions," Gerhard said. "A thousand years ago, we were a lot warmer."

Gerhard also weighs in on the recent Kyoto Protocol, which called on nations heavily reliant on fossil fuels, especially the United States, to cut back.

Recently, President Bush rejected U.S. participation in the Kyoto Protocol, saying it would have cost too much money and was unfair because developing countries did not have to comply with the agreement's requirements.

Gerhard agreed, saying that Kyoto would have forced the U.S. to replace billions of dollars in taxes on fossil fuel consumption. "It would have wrecked the American economy," he said.

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