Book Review: Acquittal for CO2

In International Review for Environmental Strategies (IRES) Volume 3 Number 1(Summer 2002)
Peer-reviewed Article

Book Review "Acquittal for CO2" by Wolfgang Thüne, Official, State Ministry of Environment Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, German title: Freispruch für CO2.
Publisher information: Wiesbaden: Edition steinherz, 2002 (in German).
ISBN: 3-9807378-1-0, 236 pp., 19.95 EUR.

Reviewer: Axel Michaelowa, Head of Programme "International Climate Policy," Hamburg Institute of International Economics, Germany.

If one follows the U.S. debate on climate policy, one will quickly stumble over pamphlets from climate skeptics who argue that there is no anthropogenic influence on climate or that climate change will actually be beneficial. Most of these skeptics-the majority of whom have never published anything in peer-reviewed journals and often are funded by fossil fuel interest groups (Greenpeace 1996, 1998) go to great lengths in bashing the "scientific establishment," especially the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). So far, Europe has been fortunate to be spared this development. Recently, however, skeptics organised as the "European Academy for Environmental Issues" have started an orchestrated campaign to confuse the European public (see for example Berne and Streif 2000), and this book by Thune is another part of this campaign.

Thune is a meteorologist by training, has been a television weather forecaster and is currently working for the Ministry of Environment of Rhineland-Palatinate, a state in Germany. He has already written a book denouncing the "greenhouse gas swindle" (Thune 1998) and his latest book continues in this vein. The style of the book can already be judged by the fact that there are no references whatsoever! Thune's thesis is that physics does not allow that greenhouse gases retain heat on the earth's surface. The simplicity of his premise that absence of heat retention by the earth's atmosphere is not possible (because all life would otherwise freeze to death at night) does not deter him from repeating this theory every five pages. Another tenet is that because one cannot forecast weather over long periods, climate projections would be impossible as well. Weather has to be suffered by man and can not be "controlled." Due to weather fluctuations, according to Thune, a "mean temperature" (and thus climate) would be a nonmeaningful construct.

There is no real structure to the book, just a wild rambling against environmentalists, leading German climate researchers, the German Physical Society, the IPCC, climate policy instruments, and attempts to remove the liberty of science. All this is dotted with factual errors, such as that the assertion that IPCC chairman would have conceded that the Second Assessment Report sentence on anthropogenic influence on climate was a lie or that the measurement of atmospheric CO2 concentration at Hawaii would be invalidated by the CO2 emission from the Mauna Loa volcano. Climate policy, in Thune's eyes, is just the last desperate attempt by Marxism to subjugate the Earth by introducing a global planned economy. He suggests that a powerful alliance of scientists craving for funds to buy large computers, of policymakers looking for new policy fields, and "parasitic" NGOs yearning for power would secretly do anything to further this outcome. Thus Thune has no problem in spreading ridiculous assertions about the international climate policy process of the type that governments paid participants in COP-6 an "amusement subsidy" of 1,500 euros (p. 24). Finally, he wants to wash his readers, especially car drivers, clean of the guilt of being "climate killers." He graphically describes his disappointment when the powerful German Automobile Club did not subscribe to his theses. Unfortunately, Thune does not address the issue of why the governments of the former communist block did not act in conformity with his thesis that emission reduction was a communist conspiracy. In fact, the communist countries were the highest per capita greenhouse gas emitters in the world.

One grain of truth in Thune's book is that the European media have tended to spread horror stories about the impact of climate change. He discusses the famous der Spiegel magazine cover of 1986 showing the Cologne cathedral standing alone in a great blue sea. However, Thune's observations are no longer representative of the current period, where media try to report in an "unbiased" manner-meaning that climate skeptics representing a minuscule share of researchers get the same space as the many thousands of mainstream scientists. Another rightful criticism is directed at the scientific system of "publish or perish," where researchers churn out papers as quickly as possible with deleterious effects on quality-but here Thune himself participates.

If European climate skeptics remain on the level of Thune, there is nothing to fear from them. Unfortunately, there are more refined ones, such as Berne and Streif, who wrap their dubious theses in the cloak of good science. Thus it is important for climate policymakers to be aware of these attempts and to have arguments at hand to refute the skeptics.

Full text is available on EBSCOhost database:

Axel Michaelowa