Commentary

Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media

This review originally appeared in Weatherwise on July 1, 2005
In a world where many adults receive their science education from newspapers and television, a great deal of misinformation about global warming exists. The media is quite skilled at making highly untenable predictions of greenhouse doom and gloom appear credible-foretelling drastically rising sea levels, the increased fury of hurricanes, and even plagues of locusts. The inaccuracies about how humans inadvertently warm earth’s tenuous atmosphere so pervade popular culture that the actual science behind this notion is hardly given a second thought.

So how do we separate the global warming wheat from the greenhouse chaff? As a meteorologist practicing my trade for nearly 20 years, I recommend a read of the latest work by Patrick Michaels, a professor at the University of Virginia and senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute. The book, Meltdown, is the latest in Michaels’ sequence of books on the topic of global warming.

Meltdown presents the flip side of what most people have heard about global warming, a cogent counterpoint to the view that the introduction of anthropogenic carbon dioxide is pushing the fluid systems of this planet into hyper-overdrive. The book presents a vast body of highly credible and growing knowledge that has been largely ignored. It includes scientific information that does not get reported in the papers or in government reports, because this information threatens to undermine the great doom and gloom establishment. The basic thesis of Meltdown is that, yes, there has been a recent upward trend in the temperature of the atmosphere. But the increase is small and unlikely to mushroom into something truly catastrophic; the public, policy, and scientific distortions that have emerged are way off the mark. The book is steeped in scientific fact, with no fewer than 100 references to journal literature, but Michaels distills, synthesizes, and cuts through the morass like a beacon. His coverage is broad, and the distortions he uncovers are organized into topics dealing with ecosystems, drought and flood, severe storms, diseases, and the cryosphere.

The book is also rewarding because Michaels’ writing is a pleasure to read. His style is conversational, nontechnical, and often quite humorous. In fact, we get the sense that Michaels enjoys agitating the beehive, poking and jabbing at the current paradigm of greenhouse disaster. His tone conveys an often blunt, common sense way of thinking about the problem. If meteorology had its own weekly news show, a 60 Minutes on climate change, Michaels would be the perfect Andy Rooney.

Meltdown provides a global warming education that is unlikely to be gleaned from textbooks or a formal introductory college course on meteorology. It also may clear up common misconceptions picked up over the years. Right from the start Michaels’ explains that anthropogenic global warming and the greenhouse effect are not one and the same process. In fact, the greenhouse effect has been operating steadily for millennia, actually making the earth habitable. Global warming has many causes, and the statistics can be misleading. For instance, an anomalously warm year can be cloaked in the form of a strong El Niño; a virulent tornado outbreak in the Midwest is not a sure signal of humaninduced greenhouse enhancement.

Michaels operates like a pathologist, sifting through the minutiae of datasets, time series, and statistics to construct a convincing argument against the imminent melting of glaciers and hurricanes spinning rapidly out of control. Michaels applies rigorous tests to the data, pointing out where the datasets frequently break down or are stretched beyond the point of credibility. Meltdown provides a badly needed balance, throwing some cold water on those waiting for the planet’s thermometer to boil over.

Those interested in climate science owe it to themselves to complete their education by reading Meltdown and Michaels’ earlier works. In a room that has grown quite stuffy during the past few years, this book throws open the windows and lets in some fresh air.

Jeff Halverson