Commentary

Gore Shouts “Fire” in Crowded Greenhouse

There’s a law against shouting “fire” in a crowded movie theatre, based upon the notion that people will believe it and run over each other in the subsequent pandemonium. But when Al Gore recently visited burning Florida, shouted “fire,” and blamed global warming, there was no climate panic. What happened?

For years now, the Gore and Clinton administration has resorted to bathos in its desperation to sell global warming gloom and doom — first in an Earth Day snow job in 1995 and most recently in Florida.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t used very much science as it chases the global warming ambulance. Here’s what I mean:

March 1995. In his annual Earth Day address at George Washington University, Vice President Gore said, “Torrential rains have increased in the summer in agricultural regions.” Gore was referring to a yet-to-be published paper by federal climatologist Tom Karl, which demonstrated that the portion of total rainfall from two- to three-inch storms in the United States has increased from 9 percent in 1900 to 11 percent in 1950. That works out to 0.6 inches more rain per year, mainly before the greenhouse effect had changed much. We’ll bet most farmers could use plenty more rain in the summer.

February 1996. On February 5, many locations in the northern United States set their all-time records for lowest recorded temperatures on any date. On February 7, President Clinton blamed the cold on global warming. Any scientist in the world will tell you that the first thing that warms up are the very same air masses that set those record cold temperatures. The president is free to say that warming causes cooling, but he can’t veto the first law of thermodynamics.

On February 16, speaking into a raging snowstorm in Pennsylvania, President Clinton blamed global warming. But Atlantic Seaboard snowstorms always come close to being rainstorms because cold air is in such short supply. Warm up the atmosphere a bit and the snow changes to rain. Global warming will cause a blizzard in Washington DC only when hell freezes over.

September 1996. At an administration-sponsored “town meeting” on global warming, State Department officials said that the damage from recently landed Hurricane Fran was what you would expect from global warming. The fact is that maximum winds in Atlantic hurricanes have been declining significantly for the last 50 years.


July 1998. Gore goes down to Florida to announce that the fires “offer a glimpse of what global warming may mean to families.”


April 1997. Speaking about the Red River flood in North Dakota, President Clinton said that “every American has noticed a substantial increase” of similar events “in the last few years.” That flood was caused by the melting of excessive snow. If Clinton’s people had bothered to check, they would have discovered the shocking fact that the warmer the winter is, the less it snows! Further, all the predictions of global warming concentrate their heating in the winter in the middle of continents — that is, places like North Dakota.

September 1997. Vice President Gore dragged a covey of quailing reporters up to Grinnell Glacier, in Glacier National Park, to announce, “This glacier is melting.” All midlatitude glaciers melt in late summer, because daytime temperatures reach their maximum. (It tends to be below freezing at night and in the winter.) But a check of the nearest long-term weather station at Kalispell, Montana, would have shown no warming trend in the last 100 years. Even the Park Service’s own literature says that Grinnell started to melt about 150 years ago at the end of the “little ice age.”

October 1997. Vice President Gore traveled to the oxymoronic “El Niño summit” in California to conflate global warming and the natural temperature oscillation in the tropical Pacific. With him were the Federal Emergency Management folks and just about everyone else needed to shower the California electorate with tax dollars. In the final analysis, El Niño was a tremendous net benefit to the economy of the United States (about $20 billion) because of the lowered fuel costs that accompanied a mild winter.

July 1998. Gore goes down to Florida to announce that the fires “offer a glimpse of what global warming may mean to families.” Somewhat more embarassing is that the total insurance claims to date are a mere $300 million, about 1 percent of those that resulted from a decent Florida hurricane, and more in line with the claims caused by summer’s normal weather variation.

In a one-hour infomercial broadcast by ABC’s Peter Jennings last April, both he and the veep lamented that Gore just can’t seem to communicate to the American people how important global warming is. The usual suspects came up: evil industry, bad people like you and me who don’t want to pay more taxes to stop global warming and people who think network news stories exaggerate things.

But the real reason Gore’s message isn’t resonating has to do with the common sense of the American people. They know that it snows less when it’s warm, that blizzards happen when it’s cold, that El Niño is as natural as prunes — and they know when someone is yelling fire in a crowded greenhouse.

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