Commentary

The Spring Offensive and the Summer Campaign

On January 10, CBS News began a series of six, count ‘em, separate global warming scare stories. On January 27, President Clinton called global warming “the greatest environmental challenge of the new century.” On February 1, Roger Ballentine, Clinton’s deputy assistant for environmental initiatives, sent a “Dear Interested Party” letter elaborating on the president’s position. On February 9, Bill Stevens, the New York Times global warming reporter (and advocate of Clinton/Gore policies; see his new book The Change in the Weather) called, saying he’s writing a new, comprehensive feature article on the subject. On April 22, Earth Day, presidential candidate Al Gore will release a new edition of his 1992 bestseller, Earth in the Balance.

Is there a pattern here?

After avoiding the issue like the political plague that it is, the Gore campaign has decided to go into high dudgeon over climate change.

The Gore team is banking on some type of national weather disaster this summer. They hope to call attention to global climate change and their belief that uncaring Republicans refuse to pass the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. This U.N. document will cost the country a fortune and has the potential to relegate an amazing percentage of our land — the United Nations calls it “Kyoto lands” — to their watchful eyes. They are about to release a report that puts just about all U.S. forested land in this category, as well as much of our farmland. That’s easily half the country.

This makes it a good idea to examine what is coming out of the White House as it ramps up the weather horror machine. On February 1, Deputy Assistant Ballentine wrote, “You may have noticed the steady stream of new scientific studies suggesting that global warming is … occurring more rapidly than previously thought.”

What “steady stream?” Fact: Of hundreds of global warming papers that appeared last year, only one, published in Geophysical Research Letters, says this, and it does so by using 16 months of data to forecast the next 100 years. The only “steady stream” it has created is a torrent of scientific criticism.

Rather, the balance of scientific evidence, according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is to the contrary. In its last comprehensive report, the United Nations stated, “When increases in greenhouse gases only are taken into account, most [climate prediction models] produce a greater mean warming than has been observed.” In other words, the computer models that gave rise to the initial concern predicted too much warming.

From Mr. Ballentine: “Reports by … the National Climatic Data Center … found that since 1976 the planet has been warming at a rate of 0.35 degrees Fahrenheit per decade.”

Fact: Integrated over the troposphere—the earth’s active weather zone — the planetary warming since 1976 has been a mere 0.07ºF/decade, or far beneath normal background fluctuations in this region. According to NASA scientist John Christy, writing in Nature magazine, the originally forecast tropospheric warming rate was around 0.70ºF/decade. This is 10 times what has been observed. Because those models, in the United Nation’s words “produce[d] a greater mean warming than has been observed,” the integrated tropospheric warming forecast was lowered, by 1997, to 0.4ºF/decade. This is still an egregious error, and a new report by the National Research Council has finally admitted that it casts serious doubt on current computer forecasts of global warming.

More Facts: It is seriously misleading to report the temperature of “the planet” in disregard of the distribution of observed surface warming. Had Mr. Ballentine consulted the latest issue of Climate Research, he would have seen that by far the greatest warming is occurring in the coldest winter air masses of Siberia and northwestern North America. Northern Hemisphere cold-season warming outside those regions averages one-tenth of what is being observed within them, which is below normal variability.

Still More Facts: The very air masses that are warming are those under which winter mortality is four times greater than summer mortality. Furthermore, in almost every year that surface temperatures have warmed, global food production has risen. This results from improved technology, benign weather and the same carbon dioxide that makes the coldest air of winter less deadly. Finally, as surface temperatures have warmed, we have witnessed the greatest democratization of wealth and expansion of longevity in human history.

None of this matters when the hype is on, and Gore knows a lot about American weather. He has been told, for sure, that conditions in the industrial Midwest, Texas and Southern California are fairly dry, predisposing the region to a very mediagenic drought, just in time for the nominating conventions.

And Gore surely has been told that the way the federal government measures moisture status — please sit down — puts an average of 20 percent of the Electoral College in drought each summer. This year, thanks to where the dry conditions are, it’s closer to one-third, or a mere New York+Florida from putting Gore in the White House.

Patrick J. Michaels is Senior Fellow in Environmental Studies at the Cato Institute and author of an upcoming book, “The Satanic Gases”. This essay first appeared in the March 7, 2000 Washington Times.