Global Warming’s Dirty Secret

This article appeared in the Washington Times, on July 13, 1999.
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The lead story on the June 29 MSNBC News was that there were terrible floods in the United States and--interspersed in the middle of the story--that global warming is going to be even worse than we thought. This was one-sided, emotional science reporting even worse than I thought possible.

The story was rooted in a recent study by Tom Wigley, introduced as "arespected climatologist." Wigley's study was financed by the Pew Foundation,which is running a multi-million-dollar campaign to hype global warming.

Wigley says that sulfate aerosols will be legislated out of existence fasterthan previously thought. He champions the theory that sulfates reflect awaythe sun's radiation, conveniently explaining why the planet has warmed solittle despite the claims of warming doomsayers and their computers.

Without sulfate aerosols, computer models indicate our hemisphere shouldhave already warmed about 2.3 degrees Celsius as a result of the greenhouseeffect. The observed warming this century is a scant 0.65 degrees. If thesulfate hypothesis fails, the argument devolves into what the "skeptics"have said for decades: the earth simply isn't going to warm all that much.

Having held a doctorate in climatology for two decades, I feel confident insaying that every one of my colleagues who has expressed an opinion to medislikes Wigley, mainly because he seems arrogantly dismissive of some factswhen they get in the way of his theories. He actively discourages the airingof points of view that conflict with his.

In October 1994, at a global warming meeting called by Rep. John Dingell(D-Mich.), Wigley was confronted with the reality that satellites had foundno warming. He merely waved his hands and said, "Oh come now, that's justthe satellite data." Oh come now, Tom, it's just the only global measure oftemperature that exists!

The sulfate aerosol theory is politically correct, because some explanationis needed for why the early climate models flopped so badly. They served asthe basis for the United Nations climate treaty, recently modified in Kyototo force the United States to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by as muchas 45 percent in 8.5 years. Even though the treaty would devastate the U.S.economy, Wigley thinks it is not enough, saying we need "nine more Kyotos."

Needless to say, Tom is very big with the folks like the Pew Foundation andthe United Nations, both of which seem to care not a whit about thedestruction of the American economic miracle as long as dreaded globalwarming is banished.

He co-authored a famous 1996 paper that showed that, from 1963 through 1987,the behavior of the atmosphere did in fact increasingly resemble that of onein which greenhouse warming was being counteracted by sulfate cooling. Butthe data available for his study actually began in 1957 and ended in 1995.When all of the data on the critical region of the atmosphere was looked at,there was no change whatsoever! Wigley has never given a satisfactoryexplanation of why he ignored all the data. Should he write a response tothis paper, I reserve the right to reply.

Wigley does not like to be confronted with this in public. Resources forthe Future, a Washington outfit big in the global warming game, recentlyheld a forum featuring Wigley but none of his critics. When pressed, Wigleysaid that his critics did not belong on the stage with him because theygenerally did not publish their work in peer-reviewed literature.Hogwash. Wigley's critics are among the most published in the business.

Arizona State's Robert Balling may be the most prolific livingclimatologist. Only a handful of papers have mathematically searched forpredicted greenhouse signals--and several are mine. The five most prominentcritics have published nearly a thousand articles, mostly in peer-reviewedjournals. Critics include a member of the National Academy of Sciences, theformer head of the American Physical Society, heads of major researchlaboratories and former presidents of other scientific and professionalsocieties. The fact that they even appear in the literature at all, giventhe thousands of people who lose some of the $2.1 billion that we spend eachyear on global change research if it all goes kerblooey, is testimony to thecogency of their arguments. Maybe that's why Wigley doesn't want anyopposition.

Sulfates don't do a good job of explaining the failure of the models notedabove. NASA scientist James Hansen, who essentially ignited the greenhouseissue 11 years ago with his flamboyant congressional testimony, has becomevery skeptical about sulfates. University of Washington scientist PeterHobbs found that sulfates off the East Coast are overwhelmed in their ownplume by black carbon particles that absorb radiation and cancel sulfatecooling. And throughout the eastern United States, where sulfates have beenin decline for the last 30 years, the temperature hasn't budged during theentire century.

Any or all of these observations could have been offered by "respectedclimatologists" if MSNBC had bothered to do a little legwork. The real"story behind the story" is why they didn't.