Honolulu Advertiser Second Opinion column by Cliff Slater
July 5, 2001
(1) Global Warming: Hotting Up in the Hague. Economist. November 18, 2000. p. 83. Search on the title.
(2) Time. Special Report/Global Warming. Life in the Greenhouse. April 9, 2001. Search on title.
(7) Lindzen, Richard S. Scientists Report Doesn’t Support the Kyoto Treaty. Wall Street Journal. June 11, 2001. See also Lindzen’s testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on May 2, 2001.
(8) Science: The Cooling World. Newsweek. April 28, 1975. “the earth's weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and ... may portend a drastic decline in food production... The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only ten years from now... the resulting famines could be catastrophic.”
(11) “The federal government pumps about $2 billion a year into climate research. Now, this money has to be spent by someone. It supports a lot of jobs. It supports a lot of people. And inevitably, many of these people begin to feel that what they're doing is tremendously important and vital. Otherwise, they couldn't really live with themselves. They've talked themselves into the fact that the work they're doing is somehow helping humanity deal with some kind of a problem.” Singer, S. Fred. PBS interview. NOVA #27gw: What's Up with the Weather? Broadcast Transcript PBS Air date: April 18, 2000
(12) In those days, the doomsayers and Disaster Merchants were even then forecasting disaster. The Club of Rome’s 1972 “Limits to Growth” discussed an imminent running out of resources and Stanford’s Paul Ehrlich, in his 1968 “Population Bomb,” warned “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970's and 1980's hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” Ehrlich, Paul R. The Population Bomb. Ballantine. 1968. p. 11. "We must have population control ... by compulsion if voluntary methods fail." p. 11.
Cool heads needed on warming
Last November, the London Economist finally jumped on the global warming bandwagon declaring, “science has made one thing clear, the problem of global warming is real.”(1) In an April Special Report, Time magazine declared, “scientists no longer doubt that global warming is happening.”(2)
Last week’s National Academy of Sciences Report to the President (3) on global warming set off dire warnings by the L.A. Times of “Worldwide Climate Peril.”(4) Time magazine told us, “the science behind global warming is solid”(5) and CNN said the Report represented, “a unanimous decision that global warming is real [and] getting worse.”(6)
However, three days later one of the signatories of the Report, Dr. Richard Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said too much attention had been paid by the media to the “hastily prepared summary”(7) rather than the Report itself, prepared by scientists. He said the Report makes “clear that there is no consensus, unanimous or otherwise, about long term climate trends and what causes them.” And added, “We are not in a position to confidently attribute past climate change to carbon dioxide or to forecast what the climate will be in the future.” After all, as he points out, “Thirty years ago, we were concerned about global cooling.”(8)
Nearly all of the many determinants of any potential global warming are uncertain; the Report uses the word “uncertain” a total of 53 times in its 24 pages. (See the Report on my website).
Why is there no clear and quotable wording? Something like, “There is uncertainty in most of the determinants of global warming and the forecasting models that use them. If the full range of uncertainties are used in the models they will produce climate change forecasts that vary from apocalyptic to being extraordinarily beneficial. We just do not know enough to develop more definitive results.”
From personal experience, I know that the way to get issues reported accurately is to be clear and unambiguous about what you are saying and say it in ten-second sound bites. Conversely, if you don’t want to be quoted then you meander and dance around the issue, never deal with uncertainties in any clear way, and keep your voice close to a monotone. It guarantees that you will not make the six o’clock news.
Since the body of the Report contains not a single quotable phrase; I am convinced this was the authors’ intent. This is not uncommon. It forces the media to write the story in full leaving the authors blameless for any inaccuracies or exaggerations.
Yet this is a Report written by hand picked scientists. Those independent scientists who have been highly critical of global warming science are ignored—even those of great reputation. Many of these scientists do not believe that there is even any smoke—let alone any fire in this issue.
For example, S. Fred Singer, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia and author of “Hot Talk Cold Science: Global Warning's Unfinished Debate,” argues that the science on global warming is neither settled, nor compelling, nor even convincing.(9)
Frederick Seitz, President Emeritus of Rockefeller University, a former President of the National Academy of Sciences and a recipient of the National Medal of Science, says flatly, “global warming projections are not in accord with reality.”(10)
Yet the media in its coverage of the Report did not mention such opposition nor discuss any uncertainty and did not carry any of Dr. Lindzen’s subsequent remarks.
On the one hand the media are telling us that global warming is a settled matter and yet scientists of impeccable qualifications and reputations are telling us that it is nonsense. Even the hand picked scientists who wrote the Report tell us it is not settled.
What is going on here?
First, as to the scientists not clarifying the issue: Follow the money, say their colleagues.(11) Many scientists are under great institutional pressure to keep the issue hot since global warming is generating billions of dollars on research. This does not make these scientists dishonest, just not as forthcoming as they might be otherwise.
Second, as to the media exaggerations: It is tough for them to report on endless gray areas and ambiguities; viewers and readers like a little certainty in their news. And this becomes exacerbated where the media has a predilection towards larger roles for both national and world governments.
Third, as to the politicians, particularly the liberal ones: Their main aim in life is to keep the voters perpetually alarmed about their safety and therefore wanting to be taken care of. (“I am from the government, I am here to help you.”)
Think of the past scares: the forecasts of $200 a barrel oil, the world running out of food, population growth continuing to grow exponentially, and the acid rain that would do us all in. (12)
Today, oil is less than $30, food is less expensive than ever, population growth should level off later in the century the UN tells us, and when did you last hear about acid rain? (13)
It’s enough to make one a skeptic.
Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at: www.lava.net/cslater
During the 20th century the earth warmed by 1°F, give or take half a degree. This is far less than the record of natural variability in climate.
"The key assumption regarding climate change - that there is a scientific consensus - is false. In fact, many mainstream scientists say there is insufficient knowledge of the magnitude of natural climatic variations, especially solar radiation and ocean currents, to gauge how large the human impact is by comparison." George Taylor, President of the American Association of State Climatologists, The Oregonian, July 1, 1999.