TCS Daily

Get Out the Ouija Boards

By Sallie Baliunas - June 4, 2002 12:00 AM

The president a year ago correctly rejected the Kyoto Protocol that demands intense reductions in U.S. energy use as a way to avert hypothetical human-made global warming that is forecast by computer simulations. Bush's sound statement called for intensive research on climate as the proper base for policy discussions. But now, in the new climate report issued through the Environmental Protection Agency, the administration says climate science is settled, and that global warming from human activities will damage the nation. Yet in the interim there has been no new science to cause the shift in viewpoint.

As a result of this waffling in position, the "third formal national communication" to the U.N. Convention on Climate Change has created a field day for media and environmental activists to play havoc again with the actual science of climate.

In his report for The New York Times, Andrew C. Revkin makes it seem something new and revelatory has been presented by the administration about the effect of global warming on the nation's resources. He claims the report details "specific and far-reaching effects"; says "the United States will be substantially changed"; warns "of the substantial disruptions of snow-fed water supplies, the loss of coastal and mountain ecosystems and more frequent heat waves." Unmentioned is that the forecasts give dubious regional results for weather phenomena that occur over small spatial scales, like precipitation. The paper's editorial page then chastises the president for admitting that man is causing climate change and then not doing enough about it. Such as? Well, "redesign(ing) our energy system so as to reduce America's dependence on carbon-based fuels."

The Times glosses over the fact that accomplishing such a redesign would take a Herculean effort. The Clinton Energy Department estimated that it would require annual reductions in growth equivalent to what we now spend on Social Security checks for retirees. And that would be to meet the emission cuts set by the Kyoto Protocol, which at best would produce a 0.011 of a percentage point reduction in greenhouse gases - and a negligible reduction in global temperature according to the very models that forecast the rising temperatures.

But more important than revealing the futility of what the Times so blithely demands is the question of the validity of those rising temperature scenarios.
For despite all the scary scenarios being painted about what might happen to the nation's ecosystems, they are predicated upon "what if?" fantasies. What if rising levels of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels lead to higher temperatures? What then might those higher temperatures do to weather and ecosystems?

The National Academy of Sciences in its report to the president last year pointed out that the future scenarios about weather and changing systems were among the most uncertain areas of the unsettled science of climate change. Dr. Richard Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan professor of meteorology at MIT and a member of the NAS panel, put it more bluntly. He calls the forecasts "a children's exercise." It equals telling someone -- as Lindzen said of the U.N. Climate Change report's section on impacts -- to "think of all the bad things that could be said that global warming might cause."

For what such forecasts deal with are two sets of speculation, with the second dependent on the occurrence of the first. Yet the scientific evidence finds little human-made global warming.

Panicky media hyperventilation starts with the correct observation that worldwide surface temperatures rose between 1 degree and 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the last 20th century. That modest rise falls within the year-to-year variability of temperature change. More than that, though, the pattern of surface warming doesn't match the air's increased greenhouse gas content from human activities. The strongest period of warming began in the late 19th Century and peaked around 1940. Next, the temperature decreased from 1940 until the late 1970s. Only then did a third trend producing a modest warming from the late 1970s to the present.

Since about 80% of the carbon dioxide from human activities was added to the air after 1940, the early 20th Century warming trend had to be largely natural. So the surface temperature record is hardly conclusive.

Meanwhile, satellite temperature records over the last quarter century, verified by independent balloon data, show none of the model-boasting warming in the layer of air one mile to five miles above the Earth's surface. All models forecasting global warming from the burning of fossil fuels - and upon which all the scary ecological and weather scenarios are based - require that temperatures warm there first.

What does that mean? All models forecast that the surface warming must follow from an unmistakable warming of the layer of air just above the surface. According to the precise and validated measurements, that bellwether layer of air shows no meaningful human-made global warming trend. Ergo, the surface warming recorded since the late 1970s cannot be caused by humans.

Science demands that ideas be tested. And the testing of the human-made global warming hypothesis fails to survive the test by the scientific method. Yet, the media and now the Bush administration, rather than relying on scientific evidence that global warming is not occurring, have decided to succumb to fears -- rejected by science -- of calamitous U.S.-wide ecological effects caused by human-made global warming.

Forsaking science as a guide has and will never solve any environmental problem. Dust off the Ouija boards and chant over tea leaves, because policy developed at odds with the scientific facts would make as much sense.

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