“Global Warming Causes More Kidney-Stones”

By | July 17, 2008

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The scare: The cult science-fiction magazine Scientific American, in a recent issue, advises readers to “add kidney stones to the growing list of possible consequences of global warming.”

It uncritically reports a “new study” published in the Proceedings of the Notional Academy of Sciences, another “global warming” propheteer, suggesting that as many as 2.3 million more people may develop mineral deposits in their kidneys by 2050 if the current global cooling stops. The pretext? “There’s a greater risk that they will be subject to dehydration in more sultry climes, which is believed to be a major contributor to stone formation.”

Sci-Fi American quotes Stephen Nakada, “chair” of urology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison: “I think the reality of this study is accurate as temperatures do play a great role in stone diseases.”

The truth: The globe is not warming. It warmed naturally by <1 °F per century for 300 years from 1700-1998 (Akasofu, 2008), but for a full decade there has been no warming, and the last seven years have shown a pronounced cooling (Figure 1):

Global cooling, 2002-2008

Not “global warming”: Globally, mean surface temperatures have been falling since late in 2001. In the cold winter of 2007/8, record sea-ice extents were observed at both Poles. The January-to-January fall in temperature from 2007-2008 was the greatest since global records began in 1880.
The report on which this scare depends fails to point out that the correlation between high temperatures and incidence of kidney-stones becomes very much closer if one includes as a factor the non-availability of plentiful supplies of fresh drinking water. The simple truth is that, for most people, all that is necessary to prevent formation of kidney-stones is to drink plenty of water every day.

The Clausius-Clapeyron relation establishes that there will be near-exponentially more water vapor in the atmosphere if the “global warming” that ceased in 1998 resumes than there is when the atmosphere is cooler. An interesting demonstration of this relation is to be found on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, which stands in a region that has cooled quite substantially over the past 50 years. Yet, despite the regional cooling, the snows of Kilimanjaro, which had begun receding in the 1880s and had already largely disappeared by the time Hemingway wrote his novel in 1936, have continued to recede.

Why? It is certainly not because of any kind of “warming”, global or regional. Temperature at the summit has been continuously monitored by satellites for 30 years. Throughout that period, the mean temperature has been 20 °F below freezing, and at no time has the temperature at the summit risen above 3 °F below freezing (Molg et al., 2003). Yet the Fürtwängler glacier at the summit continues to recede. Why? Because the cooler climate of the region has reduced the water vapor content of the atmosphere, and the resultant desiccation has accelerated the ablation of the glacier – its transition from ice directly to water vapor.

In short, when the space occupied by the atmosphere warms, the capacity of that space to hold water vapor increases near-exponentially. The atmosphere accordingly becomes generally moister. Naturally-occurring changes in the climate will continue to bring drought to some areas and floods to others, but recent studies have shown that, globally, there will be no less rainfall merely because the weather becomes warmer. For these reasons, there were fewer droughts in the US and worldwide in the warmer second half of the 20th century than there were in the cooler first half.

The “kidney-stones” scare is, moreover, one of many interesting instances of a theoretical (though not actual) risk that, even if it were real, could be far more cheaply and effectively dealt with by adaptation to any future change that might occur in the climate rather than by the excessively expensive and ultimately ineffective strategy of mitigation (i.e. closing down most of the Western economies in the vain hope of reducing the world’s carbon emissions).

Mitigation is expensive because almost all forms of power generation that do not rely upon fossil fuels are very much more costly – and environmentally damaging – than those that do. The largest wind-farm in Spain has just had to be closed because so many large, rare birds were being killed by the turbine-blades.

Adaptation, by contrast, is cheap and environment-friendly because all that is necessary is to tackle the local or regional effects of “global warming” if and when they arise. In the present case, all that is necessary is to ensure that all parts of the world that are or become drought-prone have access to good supplies of clean water. Since most of the planet is covered in water to a depth of several miles in places, this is a comparatively inexpensive engineering problem.

Droughts occur where there are few clouds. Accordingly, solar collectors can be built by sea-coasts in drought-prone regions, to power distillation plants that produce fresh water from seawater. Measures such as these, combined with public education to encourage people in hot climates to drink plenty of water, will be sufficient – at very reasonable cost – not only to prevent any increase in the incidence of kidney-stones but to reduce it.

Comparative studies of the health impacts of hot climates either side of the Tex-Mex border have shown conclusively that a well-developed economy such as that of the United States is very much better able to prevent adverse effects from heat waves or prolonged hot weather than a less-developed economy such as that of Mexico. However, if the propheteers’ proposals to close down the fossil-fueled economies of the West were to succeed, death-rates in response to adverse-weather events of all kinds would rise not only in the less-developed nations but in the free world as well.

All of the foregoing, like the “kidney-stone” scare itself, is predicated on the assumption that the world will continue to warm. However, the 2004 Symposium of the International Astronomical Union concluded, decisively, that it was the Sun, not carbon dioxide, that had caused the slight and now-reversed surge in the long-run warming trend at the end of the 20th century. The IAU concluded that, now that the solar Grand Maximum of the past 70 years is ending, the world will begin to cool.

A recent paper in Nature (Keenlyside et al., 2008) concurs, to the extent of saying that there may be no new record year for high temperature until 2015, because natural factors will overlay any warming tendency arising from ever-increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

However, the UN’s climate panel, the IPCC, says that the Sun has had a negligible effect on warming since 1750, and it does not allow for any other natural cause of warming or cooling at all. In particular, its calculations and conclusions do not sufficiently allow for the major (albeit medium-term) effect on climate of the changing phases of the great ocean oscillations. Towards the end of the 20th century, the two most powerful of these oscillations, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, were both in their warming phases. In 1998, their effect, combined with an exceptional but not unprecedented El Nino Southern Oscillation, caused a very strong upward spike in temperature.

Between 2007 and 2008, however, the January-to-January drop in global temperature was greater than at any time since global instrumental records began in 1880. The reason was an unusually intense La Nina oscillation that caused cooler water to surface in the tropical mid-Pacific, combined with a reversal of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation from its warming phase to its cooling phase.

It is these great oscillations that are chiefly responsible for much of the upward and downward fluctuation in temperatures either side of the long-run warming trend over the past 300 years. For instance, researchers at NASA last year concluded that the reason for the record shrinkage of the Arctic ice-cap was an acceleration of pole-ward sea and air currents caused by the warming phase of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, and had little or nothing to do with anthropogenic “global warming”.

The NASA study received negligible coverage in the “global-warming”-propheteering media. Likewise, the media, having devoted thousands of hours and column inches to the disappearing Arctic ice of last summer, somehow failed to report that sea-ice extent in the Arctic last winter was the greatest since records began.

The IPCC refuses to recognize the short-to-medium-term impact of the great ocean oscillations on climate, or the longer-term climate impact of changes in solar activity. Instead it tries to lay most of the blame for the warming of the past half-century on humanity, and to say that if we do not act soon to mitigate “global warming” it will become irreversible and dangerous. Even if it were right, most of the imagined “dangers” – such as the “kidney-stones” scare – could be affordably and easily prevented by focused adaptation. End of scare.