The Veep and the “Small Band”

May 17, 1999 • Commentary

There are those, like the vice president, who believe that global climate catastrophe is not far off. And there are those who argue that the whole thing is overblown. Gore’s friends like to call them “a small band of vocal skeptics.” Author Ross Gelbspan, whose dreamy new‐​age screed is called “The Heat Is On,” refers to the skeptics as “interchangeable hood ornaments on a high‐​powered engine of disinformation.”

Let’s compare the claims of the many gloom‐​and‐​doomers with the findings of “the small band.” Vice President Gore ignores these arguments at his peril:

  1. Global warming models that ultimately served as the basis for the United Nations Climate Treaty were right.

    Counterpoint: In 1996 the U.N. gave in to the “small band,” writing that “most greenhouse models tend to produce more warming than has been observed.”

  2. Sulfate aerosols — another fossil fuel emission that reflects away the sun’s rays away from the earth’s surface — explains the lack of warming.

    Counterpoint: Sulfate aerosols don’t explain much at all; they just cool the climate in the computer model. There are very few sulfate aerosols in the Southern Hemisphere, but neither surface observations taken by the weather balloon network (the only uniform network we have down there) nor satellite measurements show any warming in the last two decades. M. A. Kane wrote in Science in 1997 that it was likely that the “influence” sulfates have in climate models is much larger than their “true influence,” and that sulfates are substituting in the computer model for the “natural moderating mechanisms” actually found in the climate system. Gerry North, from Texas A&M University, has given several recent papers showing that the cooling from sulfates was seriously overestimated.

  3. World agriculture will suffer because of global warming.

    Counterpoint: NASA scientist Cindy Rosensweig writes that American agricultural output stays the same or actually increases because of warming and the beneficial effect of carbon dioxide itself, which makes plants grow better. America is the world’s breadbasket, so what happens here largely determines global supply. Sylvan Wittwer, former head of the Board on Agriculture of the U.S. National Research Council, estimates that 20 percent of the observed increase in crop yields in recent decades is a direct result of CO2 fertilizing the plants. There’s a reason greenhouse operators maintain the concentration of CO2 at three times what it is outdoors. It’s a virtually cost‐​free way of getting a lot more plants.

  4. Mortality will increase because of global warming.

    Counterpoint: Like most silly arguments, this one raises a lot of interest. The fact of the matter is that, on average, four times more Americans die of cold weather than of warm weather, according to U.S. Public Health Service statistics. And most of those who die in the heat lack air conditioning. Taxing energy to stop fossil fuel use to stop air conditioning to stop global warming will kill many times more people than the temperature itself.

  5. Global warming makes weather more extreme.

    Counterpoint: Robert Balling (another in the “small band”) and I examined this in the journal Climate Research. We found that warm years show less variability in temperature and that there was no change in the variability of rainfall.

  6. Terrible floods will increase.

    Counterpoint: Harry Lins, of the U.S. Geological Survey, just published a paper in Geophysical Research Letters demonstrating that flooding rains have not changed a lick, while the frequency of drought has decreased. Lins was this author’s Ph.D. student — another member of the “small band,” by association.

  7. We have improved our projections to the point that we can trust our forecasts for the next century.

    Counterpoint: The climate models are, if anything, worse. Averaged throughout the troposphere — the lowest layer of the atmosphere that extends up to about 40,000 feet — they predict a warming of about .21°C (.38°F) per decade for the last 20 years. The observed warming, averaged through this zone (accounting for the fact that density lowers with height) is .026°C (.048°F). The projection for the last 20 years is off by 800 percent! And that’s for models that attempt to cool their heat with overblown sulfate aerosol. If we do the calculation another way, simply by altitude, the error rate is closer to 1000 percent.

    What the models actually do is predict that the whole troposphere will warm, while in the real world we can find it only in, say, the bottom 4000 feet. And three quarters of that is in the coldest airmasses of Siberia in Northern Hemisphere winter. Getting the remaining 36,000 feet wrong is very bad news for science.

    Remember that the atmosphere behaves like a fluid. Getting its behavior wrong in 90 percent of the “up” direction means that any forecasts for north, south, east and west in the remaining 10 percent simply could not be right for the right reason, because the overall fluid behavior determines temperature at any altitude, including the surface.

  8. Republicans should avoid this issue and not debate Gore on the science of global climate change.

    Counterpoint: Memorize this column.

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