TCS Daily

The New WMD?

By C. C. Kraemer - July 31, 2003 12:00 AM

Hans Blix did not find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq because he was apparently looking in the wrong place. Like that sought-after document in Edgar Allen Poe's "The Purloined Letter," a weapon of mass destruction was right there in plain sight. Blix just had to look up.


But don't blame the United Nations' former chief weapons inspector. Even though he told MTV in March that he was "more worried about global warming than I am of any major military conflict," not even he could have foreseen that a greater threat than chemical, biological or nuclear weaponry lurked all around.


That profound observation was made by John Houghton, a former co-chairman of climate science for the politicized U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Applying what is clearly avant-garde scientific analysis, Houghton declared Monday that "I have no hesitation in describing" global warming "as a weapon of mass destruction."


"Like terrorism, this weapon knows no boundaries," Houghton said. "It can strike anywhere, in any form -- a heatwave in one place, a drought or a flood or a storm surge in another."


In all the apocalyptic rhetoric about global warming, this has to be the first time someone has overstated the case by likening it to a weapon of mass destruction. The impulse is to laugh off the tortured appraisal and dismiss Houghton for not being a serious person, regardless of his scientific credentials. He seems quite serious though, enough so that he believes global warming "kills more people than terrorism."


But then, "So does frostbite," says Eamonn Butler, director of the Adam Smith Institute.


"But despite Houghton's hyperbole," Butler wrote in a letter published Tuesday in Britain's Guardian, "the evidence for whether human-induced global warning even exists is about as dodgy as the average Downing Street dossier."


As examples of global warming's deadly effects, Houghton cited the fact that 562 tornadoes hit the mainland U.S. in May, killing 41 people. The developing world, he added, suffered even more. Pre-monsoon temperatures this year in India reached 120 degrees, 9 degrees above normal.


No dispute with those facts. But if the hotter-than-normal weather and killer tornadoes are caused by global warming, how does Houghton account for the fact that people wore coats and huddled under blankets while watching the Independence Day fireworks show in Monterey, Calif., this year? What does he say about the spring that was so unseasonably cool on our East Coast that retailers lamented the slow sales for summer wear?


The fact is none of the anecdotes proves or disproves the existence of global warming. Nor can they correctly identify its possible cause or causes, should it be proven to the satisfaction of the entire scientific community that the world is growing warmer to any significant extent. The weather of one day, one season, one year, sometimes here, sometimes there, does not provide an accurate data set from which to draw a reasonable conclusion about global warming.


For the skeptics and objective researchers, the exercise of yet again clearing the scientific skies clouded by politically motivated tales of doom must be tiring. Yet they endeavor on, explaining as scientists Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas do in recent study, that the Middle Ages were warmer than today's era. Or pointing out that the Earth's temperature cycles are impacted by solar activity, as University of Chicago astrophysicist Eugene Parker and others have done. Or showing that heat-related mortality rates have fallen, the exact opposite of what would be expected to occur if the Earth was overheating, as Robert Davis and Wendy Novicoff of the University of Virginia have.


Surely Houghton, a former chief executive of the British Meteorological Office, has kept up with the research. He should know the science behind global warming is uncertain, that the models used to predict the climate into the future have been found faulty. Yet he chooses to feed the illusion. Is it simply a pretext that allows him to indict America for its perceived excesses?


"Nowadays," Houghton mused after making his statement, "everyone knows that the U.S. is the world's biggest polluter, and that with only one 20th of the world's population it produces a quarter of its greenhouse gas emissions."


Perhaps Houghton couldn't help it, but the more he talked, the more he revealed himself and most of the eco-activist movement. Sounding the global warming alarm is not about protecting the environment as much as it is about imposing the egalitarian ideal. It's about shaming the U.S. and the West for consumption habits and all the benefits generated by our system. Exaggerating the threat is just an effective means to achieving an end.



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