As billions of little light bulbs brighten America this holiday season, Al Gore is calling for thousands across the nation to interrupt their regularly scheduled activities and hold house parties showing his environmental cri de coeur.
Gore announced recently on the Oprah Winfrey Show that Americans should congregate this Saturday, December 16, to watch and discuss his DVD, An Inconvenient Truth, advertised as "a true story about the hard science and real threats of global warming."
The idea is to demonstrate that "action" is wanted on climate change.
If climate alarmists are to be believed, Americans must cut their electricity use substantially, and soon, to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions associated with fossil-fuel combustion. Celebratory holiday lighting -- what doomsayer Paul Ehrlich once called "garish commercial Christmas displays" -- would surely be the first to go, coming before indoor lighting, cooking, heating, and air conditioning.
But are these changes really necessary for the United States, the world's most prolific user of energy? The good news -- and a reason for holiday cheer -- is that the science behind rapid, disruptive global warming scenarios is murky at best. Though the debate is highly politicized and emotionally charged, good science is beginning to drive out bad.
The Kyoto Protocol and other sledgehammer approaches to cutting greenhouse-gas emissions in the advanced countries are coming under intellectual, not just political, assault.
A sampling of recent issues of Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, shows that peer-reviewed studies dispute virtually all the tenets behind climate alarmism. A November 17 feature, "False Alarm: Atlantic Conveyor Belt Hasn't Slowed Down After All," rebuts the hyped hypothesis that melting ice from global warming (read: man-made global warming) would disrupt ocean currents and plunge Europe into an Ice Age.
The same Science report takes on the idea that warming causes drastic cooling, the complicated, and ironic scenario Al Gore said "some scientists are seriously worried about."
Science comments that even if global warming were cooling specific regions (a big if), "it would be decades before the change would be noticeable above the noise."
And here, in a nutshell, is what the climatology debate is about: if and how much the human influence on climate is detectable above natural variability.
For instance, rapid rises in sea level produced by global warming is another popular alarm, one very relevant for residents of the Texas Gulf Coast area. But as the November 24 issue of Science says, "It remains unclear whether the recent rate increase [since 1993] reflects an acceleration in sea-level rise or a natural fluctuation."
Indeed, sea level has been rising for well over a century for the same natural reasons that brought the end of a little ice age. What scientists are measuring and debating concerns not feet but inches, and fractions thereof, over many decades. This hardly seems the crisis scenario that Al Gore portrays.
Gore claims, "There is now a strong, new emerging consensus that global warming is indeed linked to a significant increase in both the duration and intensity of hurricanes."
But hurricane specialists disagree. The November 10 Science says, "The best theory and modeling still indicate the ocean temperature has only a minimal effect on storms."
Exaggerated forecasts of disrupted ocean circulation, rapid sea-level rise, and more intense hurricanes make for splashy headlines, but sober science suggests that these scares du jour may go the way of yesterday's alarms over global cooling, the population bomb, and mineral-resource exhaustion.
Nonetheless, one part of these scare stories is genuinely frightening: the heavy-handed government intervention that advocates always look to as the source of salvation. Yesterday's foes of the free market were socialists, communists, and Keynesians. Today's are greens who want government engineering to "stabilize" the climate and ensure "sustainability."
I will not be watching Al Gore's quasi-sci-fi horror movie this Saturday night. I'll probably be driving through neighborhoods of people I don't even know, enjoying the gift of their holiday lights. And to them I say: Don't fall for exaggerations. Enjoy your regularly scheduled activities, and keep the lights on.