The Veep and the “Small Band”


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 hisperil:

  1. Global warming models that ultimately served as the basis for the UnitedNations 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 beenobserved."

  2. Sulfate aerosols -- another fossil fuel emission that reflects away thesun's rays away from the earth's surface -- explains the lack of warming.

    Counterpoint: Sulfate aerosols don't explain much at all; they just cooltheclimate in the computer model. There are very few sulfate aerosols in theSouthern Hemisphere, but neither surface observations taken by the weatherballoon network (the only uniform network we have down there) nor satellitemeasurements show any warming in the last two decades. M. A. Kane wrote inScience in 1997 that it was likely that the "influence" sulfates have inclimate models is much larger than their "true influence," and thatsulfatesare substituting in the computer model for the "natural moderatingmechanisms" actually found in the climate system. Gerry North, from TexasA&M University, has given several recent papers showing that the coolingfrom sulfates was seriously overestimated.

  3. World agriculture will suffer because of global warming.

    Counterpoint: NASA scientist Cindy Rosensweig writes that Americanagricultural output stays the same or actually increases because of warmingand the beneficial effect of carbon dioxide itself, which makes plants growbetter. America is the world's breadbasket, so what happens here largelydetermines global supply. Sylvan Wittwer, former head of the Board onAgriculture of the U.S. National Research Council, estimates that 20percentof the observed increase in crop yields in recent decades is a directresultof CO2 fertilizing the plants. There's a reason greenhouse operatorsmaintain the concentration of CO2 at three times what it is outdoors. It'savirtually 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 dieofcold weather than of warm weather, according to U.S. Public Health Servicestatistics. And most of those who die in the heat lack air conditioning.Taxing energy to stop fossil fuel use to stop air conditioning to stopglobal warming will kill many times more people than the temperatureitself.

  5. Global warming makes weather more extreme.

    Counterpoint: Robert Balling (another in the "small band") and I examinedthis in the journal Climate Research. We found that warm years show lessvariability in temperature and that there was no change in the variabilityof rainfall.

  6. Terrible floods will increase.

    Counterpoint: Harry Lins, of the U.S. Geological Survey, just published apaper in Geophysical Research Letters demonstrating that flooding rainshavenot changed a lick, while the frequency of drought has decreased. Lins wasthis author's Ph.D. student -- another member of the "small band," byassociation.

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

    Counterpoint: The climate models are, if anything, worse. Averagedthroughout the troposphere -- the lowest layer of the atmosphere thatextends 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, averagedthrough 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 800percent! And that's for models that attempt to cool their heat withoverblown sulfate aerosol. If we do the calculation another way, simply byaltitude, the error rate is closer to 1000 percent.

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

    Remember that the atmosphere behaves like a fluid. Getting its behaviorwrong in 90 percent of the "up" direction means that any forecasts fornorth, south, east and west in the remaining 10 percent simply could not beright for the right reason, because the overall fluid behavior determinestemperature at any altitude, including the surface.

  8. Republicans should avoid this issue and not debate Gore on the scienceofglobal climate change.

    Counterpoint: Memorize this column.

Patrick J. Michaels

Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at Cato Institute and science advisor to the Greening Earth Society in Arlington, Virginia.