Commentary

Fighting Fire With Facts

I’m willing to wager two things. First, I’ll bet that anyone who said global warming is an overblown bunch of hooey had a terrible time at this year’s holiday cocktail parties. Second, I’ll take even money that the 10 years ending on December 31, 2007, will show a statistically significant global cooling trend in temperatures measured by satellite.

Those two bets are related. Our greener friends were in high attack mode on the party circuit last month as TV newscasts presented a relentless nightly stream of reports on how 1998 was the warmest year since gosh knows when. NBC got British scientist Phil Jones to say that it was the warmest year of the millennium, even though the thermometer was invented only about three-quarters of the way through it. The figures he used were estimates based mainly on tree ring measurements prior to 1900 (that’s 900 of the last 1000 years), and those estimates are known to miss an enormous amount of true temperature variation.

As far as 1998 was concerned, the wire stories correctly noted (for a change) that all three true temperature histories — from ground-based thermometers, weather balloons in the lower atmosphere and satellite soundings of the lower layers — showed the same thing: record temperatures. The satellite history is 20 years long, the weather balloon history is 42, and reliable global ground-based temperature data really extend back only about 55 years. But they all were higher than kites.

The many hours spent explaining to folks that 1998 blew the top off the record because heat from the big El Niño burped its way out to space could easily have been saved if I’d just had a vest-pocket temperature history handy. To save you a similar investment of time, there’s one included with this article. It’s intended to wrap around your business card (or if you’re not working, a credit card) for easy access at the next party.

Brandish the card while you’re being jabbed into the corner by a sharpened carrot stick (or, God forbid, a Ranch-sauced bit of broccoli) by some punk wearing a Phish shirt. What he’ll see is absolutely no warming trend whatsoever from when the satellite measurements began (January 1979) through the end of 1997, followed by one warm year in 1998.


Our greener friends were in high attack mode on the party circuit last month as TV newscasts presented a relentless nightly stream of reports on how 1998 was the warmest year since gosh knows when.


The stunning blip in 1998 is just that — a blip. Close examination (data shown here run through November 1998) shows that temperatures have dropped back down to the levels typical of 1979-97.

Those who follow global warming know that two California scientists recently found a problem with the satellite temperatures. The data shown on the chart have been corrected by NASA scientist Roy Spencer.

Last year was so warm that it induces a statistically significant warming trend in the satellite data. Thus the second bet: Starting with 1998, there will almost certainly be a statistically significant cooling trend in the decade ending in 2007.

In part, rapid cooling in late 1998 explains the record level of hysteria accompanying the global warming stories in the last half of December. Anyone pushing for climate legislation knows that it’s now or never, because the warming is over.

If the Kyoto protocol doesn’t pass in the heat of this particular moment, it never will. So maybe readers will want to make copies of the little wallet card and send a few to their friends here in Washington. Or perhaps if you come to town for a little social gathering, you can pull it out and show it around. And, while we’re at it, any takers on my wagers?

Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and science advisor to the Greening Earth Society in Arlington, Virginia.