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Economy & Tech

Are We Stifling Debate on the Extent of Carbon Dioxide’s Role in Global Warming?

Should Japan embark on Co2 reduction negotiations without understanding the essence of the matter, it may end up squandering an enormous amount of its wealth for no purpose.

Shohei Nagatsuji

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Global warming has become a global concern. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has continued to pump out strong warnings if humanity would have no future unless we do something. The Japanese government, following Europe’s lead, has announced the target of net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. 

RELATED: EDITORIAL | Balance Environment and Economy in Setting Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions Target

The United States has returned to the 2015 Paris Agreement on global warming, giving momentum to the movement for decarbonization. In the meantime, gas powered vehicles have been demonized as the source of all evil, reminiscent of the eve of an ominous energy revolution.   

Looking back at the history of science, the most treacherous times were those in which it was difficult to express views contrary to a mainstream theory. In this case, it conjures up the absurdity of “Lysenkoism,” a scientific theory that was worshipped in the former Soviet Union in the 20th century.

Acedemician Trofim Lysenko, who was elected vice-chairman of the Soviet Union during the first session of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR in 1938. (Photo by: Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Annihilating Differing Views 

Trofim Lysenko (1898-1976) was a Soviet agricultural scientist. He argued that agricultural production could be massively enhanced by introducing his genetic theory of environmentally acquired inheritance that an individual organism’s acquired characteristics could be genetically transmitted to its offspring, in that case, the cultivation of wheat.

At the time, science was on the eve of elucidating the structure of genetics. Lysenko dismissed the orthodox principles of biological inheritance proffered by Gregor Mendel in the 19th century as “bourgeois genetics poisoned by capitalism,” and insisted instead that genetic properties changed based on interactions with the environment. 

Lysenko’s peculiar genetic theory was approved of by Joseph Stalin, the dictator at the time. As a result, no Soviet biologists expressed a skeptical view of Lysenkoism, as it was the rage of the times. Critics of Lysenkoism were arrested and imprisoned. Far from questioning, “scientific” papers based on the ideas of Lysenko even began to appear. 

Wheat production on collective farms that put Lysenkoism into practice did increase. However, that was simply because no negative response could be entered in questionnaires surveying the effects of the Lysenko theory. In experiments comparing conventional farming methods to Lysenkoism, plots of farmland with favorable conditions were recorded as using the Lysenko style of farming. 

Lysenko reigned over the agronomics and biological studies community of the USSR from the mid-1930s, holding the position of director of the Institute of Genetics at the Soviet Academy of Sciences until 1965.

The wheat breeding method advocated by Lysenko asserted that seeds of autumn wheat would transform into spring wheat when exposed to low temperatures. In the light of today’s science, there is no genetic mechanism involved in the process, but the effects of the low temperatures cause the seeds of autumn wheat to sprout and bear fruit. 

That method, however, had too many shortcomings, including a great deal of labor required for employing it in actual farming, and it ran counter to efforts for increasing productivity. Should farmers report according to the realities, they would certainly be accused of deficiency in their study of Lysenkoism. 

Lysenko’s theory continued to linger under the Nikita Khrushchev administration. Although it had influence over biological studies in Japan for some time after World War II, it lost persuasiveness in the wake of the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA by molecular biologist James Watson and his colleagues in 1953. 

Totalitarianism in Research

We should be concerned that the problem of global warming is being subjected to the same type of hazards posed by Lysenkoism. 

Reports released by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) about every five years warn that GHGs such as carbon dioxide (CO2) are exacerbating the crisis of the Earth’s warming. The call for “saving the irreplaceable Earth” has tremendous appeal.

The situation becomes precarious when people simply follow each other, chanting the same slogan driven by emotion. We should not forget that the Earth’s temperatures have been fluctuating naturally on a greater and lesser scale from time immemorial. In the planetary near past, Earth entered a cold phase from around the year of 1400, but then began a recovery period from around 1800, with the present age midway through the warming era.

As a result, the Earth’s average temperatures have been gently on the rise. The change amounts to about 0.7 degrees centigrade per 100 years, which the IPCC and other organizations claim is due to CO2 and other GHGs.

However, it was after the end of World War II that CO2 in the atmosphere began increasing. Nevertheless, global temperatures have been rising since before the war. This simple fact alone brings the reasoning behind making CO2 the culprit for global warming into question. 

It is true that CO2 has the effect of warming the Earth, but many researchers say its impacts are substantially small. Instead, natural, geophysical fluctuations are largely responsible for global warming. 

The theory naming CO2 as the major menace causing global warming, however, reigns over society today, backed by the authority of the U.N. and the IPCC, and armed with global warming simulations worked out on supercomputers.

Researchers arguing against the dominant theory are ostracized and denied access to research funds. It becomes difficult to find acceptance of their academic papers by their peers, while younger researchers critical of the theory have a hard time finding jobs in the field. 

As a result, the scientific community has become a vehicle for uniformly affirming the theory that CO2 is the menace. It is just a modern version of Lysenkoism.  

“Decarbonization” is now the keyword driving the world’s industries, economy and politics.

Cuts in Co2 emissions are not very likely to curb the rise in global temperatures. Should Japan embark on Co2 reduction negotiations without understanding the essence of the matter, we will be tossed about in the struggle for political and economic hegemony by other international players, eventually finding we have squandered an enormous amount of our nation’s wealth for no purpose.

Top priority in the government’s budgetary allocations should be for measures designed to prevent and adapt to erratic climate-related disasters, including floods caused by temperature fluctuations and urbanization, landslides, and the urban heat-island phenomena.

Multiple perspectives should be welcomed in both the political and scientific environments. Soviet agriculture was debilitated by the lack of such an approach. History tells us that it is the collapse of the Soviet Union that followed. 

(Find access to The Sankei Shimbun report in Japanese at this link.)

For more on this debate, see: 

Author: Shohei Nagatsuji

Shohei Nagatsuji is a senior staff writer and an editorial writer for the Sankei Shimbun specialized in science and technology.