Commentary

Administration Attempts Shoot-Down of Satellite

Nothing has been more embarrassing to the administration’s global warming apocalyptics than a few satellites, first launched in 1978, that resolutely refuse to find any warming of the lower atmosphere, which all the administration’s modelers and all the administration’s men predict should be heating with reckless abandon.

When the satellite data were first published eight years ago by Roy Spencer and John Christy, of NASA and the University of Alabama respectively, the record was only 10 years long; the global warmers chanted in unison that the record was too short and therefore only a blip. Steve Schneider, who was the federal guru of climate change (he’s now with population apocalyptic Paul Ehrlich at Stanford), told Science that “the next ten years will tell the story.”

They have, but the administration hasn’t listened. The story is that there’s a slight (but statistically significant) cooling trend in the satellite data. It’s not surprising — but it is scientifically dismaying — that the administration wants that trend to stop. So when the White House held its big global warming show last fall, up popped the leader of one of the nation’s most prominent environmental organizations (hint: it’s the one that destroyed the nuclear power business, thereby causing the greenhouse increase to begin with!) to declaim, “We have got to do something about the satellite.”

Climate watchers have been wondering how long it would take the $2.1 billion the federal government spends each year on global change research to “do something.” It did on February 23, when a California rocket scientist sent a manuscript to Nature magazine, claiming he had found the error in the satellite data and that the atmosphere was actually warming up after all. (Sorry, can’t mention the author. Nature has a hard-and-fast rule about blabbing to the press, and they’d have to pull the paper.)

The scientist calculated how much the solar wind — a stream of high-energy particles that exerts a slight force on everything in the solar system — would slow the satellites. In slowing down, the satellites fall a bit toward the earth’s surface, and they “see” a smaller area from which to take their measurements. To the satellites, a reduced area would appear colder than it really is.


The satellite data could show a spurious cooling trend that exactly matched the balloon temperatures only if there were an exactly similar bias in the balloon readings. That’s simply not the case.


Adjusting for that induces a compensating warming in the satellite data of about 0.12 degrees (C) per decade. When that warming is coupled with the currently observed cooling in the record (0.04 degrees per decade), the result is a slight warming trend of 0.08 degrees every 10 years. That is still way below where it’s supposed to be (the computer models that served as the basis for the Kyoto global warming treaty predicted about 0.35 degrees per decade by now), but at least it’s a warming.

The rocket scientist then sent his results not only to Nature but to everyone else of scientific note who carries the administration’s precipitation. If you don’t believe there’s a cabal in the science community cheering for apocalyptic global warming, you ought to see the e-mail list. The only ones on it who weren’t cheerleaders happen to be Messrs. Spencer and Christy, whose satellite was gored.

Included on the list were the Big Agency science administrators, who dutifully made sure Al Gore got a copy. He was reportedly ecstatic. And Nature itself, whose editorial stance increasingly resembles the vice president’s view, helped things along ASAP. Send a paper to Nature showing that global warming may not be such a big deal, and they’ll take six months to review it before, in all probability, sending a terse rejection letter. But this one got turned around in 10 days!

Balance need not apply. Spencer and Christy asked the rocket scientist if they could publish a companion response but were told no, it would take too long. What’s the rush?

The rush is that the apocalyptics want to drop this news on the public like they did the “Ozone Hole over Kennebunkport” in 1992. That’s when Gore, still in the Senate, trumpeted some NASA chemical data indicating that a Northern Hemisphere ozone hole was imminent (the late winter ozone depletions are largely confined to Antarctica for good physical reasons). By stampeding the Senate into panic, Gore rammed through a 99-to-1 vote for an accelerated ban on certain industrial refrigerants. Only two weeks later, NASA had data showing that their initial pronouncement was a gross exaggeration, and the ozone hole never appeared. NASA wasn’t forthcoming until after the Senate acted.

If Spencer and Christy are allowed to respond concurrently, they will blow the paper to kingdom come. That’s because the satellite temperatures match up perfectly with a totally independent measure, taken twice a day by weather balloons as they ascend through the lower atmosphere. The satellite data could show a spurious cooling trend that exactly matched the balloon temperatures only if there were an exactly similar bias in the balloon readings.

That’s simply not the case. Or did thousands of folks launching millions of weather balloons over the last 20 years somehow decide to fudge the numbers so they would match up perfectly with those of satellites that didn’t show global warming? Talk about a massive conspiracy of right-wing airheads!

Patrick J. Michaels is a senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute.