Commentary

White House Blows Its Cool On Global Warming

Given his very bad temper, folks have been wondering when Al Gore and his environmental soulmates at the White House were going to get nasty with people who don’t share their view of global warming. Well, the time is now, and it looks like another Scorched Earther.

Judging by Mr. Gore’s heated rhetoric lately, he sees people who disagree with him as demonic beings who’ll be doing the scorching. U.S. News & World Report quotes him as saying, “I really can’t think of a clearer demonstration of the contrast between Democratic policies and Republican policies than what happened under Scar compared to what happened under Simba.”

For the few of you who have not seen Disney’s “Lion King,” Scar is the evil leader who takes over the pride. A terrible drought ensues. The women are enslaved. The “Circle of Life” (Elton John’s catchy theme song) is destroyed. For Gore, those are Republican values. When the good Simba returns after a few years away (could this be analogous to Gore at Harvard?), the rains return and balance is restored. Democrats, you see, can change the climate.

I note parenthetically that drought in central Africa is often related to El Niño, that Gore has been trying to blame El Niño on global warming (scientifically, the exact opposite may be true) and … , well, you get the way his mind works. His global warming world has always been a struggle between good and evil, between New Age and the free market. More than 10 years ago, he wrote this about global warming: ” ‘Evil’ and ‘Good’ are not terms used frequently by politicians [pleeze, Al!]. Yet I do not see how this problem can be solved without reference to spiritual values.”

Al’s world view is enthusiastically shared by Dirk Forrister, a rock-hard Gore man who heads the White House Office of Global Climate Change. Recently he told a Washington, D.C., meeting of the prestigious Energy Institute that critics who disagree with the official view of global warming are “clowns.”


Science is “frivolous,” to be dismissed quite casually when it turns out to be inconvenient.


Half an hour later, Forrister blew up when confronted with the most recent scientific findings, which provide compelling and conclusive evidence that folks who have beaten the apocalyptic global warming drum for the last decade have been just plain wrong.

In 1990 the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) offered a “best estimate” prediction of warming over the next century of 3.2 degrees Celsius. By 1995, thanks in part to incessant attacks by so-called skeptics, the warming estimate was lowered to 2.0°C.

Three months ago Department of Commerce researcher Ed Dlugokenky published a paper in Nature demonstrating that atmospheric methane — an important man-created greenhouse gas — is likely to show very little change in the next century. That forces the warming estimate down to about 1.75°C. Forrister called this observation “frivolous.”

At the same time, Norwegian researcher Gunnar Myhre discovered that the direct heating effect of carbon dioxide has been overestimated, something the “skeptics” had maintained had to be true because the planet has warmed so little. His work was published in Geophysical Research Letters. That drops the warming estimate to 1.5°C. Forrister called this “frivolous.”

A popular climate model from 10 years ago that served as much of the basis for the infamous U.N. Climate Treaty and the subsequent Kyoto Protocol (currently 0 for 95 in the Senate) said that, over the past decade, the globe should have warmed about 0.45°C. The observed temperature as measured at the surface, inflated by an urban (warm) bias, shows warming of just 0.11°C. Weather balloon thermistors and barometers, two independent instruments, showed cooling, as do the satellites, even after correction for recently discovered orbital drift. Forrister shouted “frivolous.”

NASA scientist James Hansen has recently argued that the reason dramatic warming didn’t show up as he had forecast was because the soil and vegetation are taking up carbon dioxide at an increasing rate. That makes the planet greener, not browner (sorry, Carol!). Accounting for Hansen’s work published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, lowers 21st-century warming to about 1.25°C. Forrister called this “frivolous.”

Tom Wigley of the National Science Foundation has just published a paper in Geophysical Research Letters showing that if every nation met its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, planetary cooling would be an undetectable 0.07°C by 2050, compared to what the temperature would be if we did nothing. My own research, recently published in Climate Research, shows that the largest warmings occur in the coldest winter air masses rather than in the summer. “These are all frivolous arguments,” Forrister said.

En coda, Forrister was asked if there would even be a Kyoto Protocol if the climate modelers had told us 10 years ago that it would only warm 1.0-1.5°C over the next century. After a long pause, he said (as best as I can recall), “I don’t know. Maybe yes, maybe no.”

Having thus opened Pandora’s floodgates, Forrister was asked if the new findings might not make it appropriate for the Senate to pass a resolution forcing the president to withdraw the United States from the U.N. treaty, which allows such an option. “Frivolous!” he shouted. “You just can’t go making frivolous arguments like that!”

Thus the new White House policy: those who do not agree with their (now thoroughly discredited) view of global warming are evil and will scorch the earth. Science is “frivolous,” to be dismissed quite casually when it turns out to be inconvenient. Stay tuned. Things can only get worse.

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