Shoveling out the facts of global warming

 Usually when you say something foolish, it’s only your friends
and family you have to worry about avoiding when the chickens come
home to roost.  But every now and then, a bone-headed blunder hangs
out there for the whole world to see.


     Such was the case when Britain’s Neville Chamberlain
pronounced “peace in our time” shortly before Hitler’s tanks
blitzkrieged into Poland.  Such was the case when the Chicago Daily
Tribune went to press with its “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline,
shortly before the haberdasher from Independence claimed his second
term.  And such was the case this very winter when, based on a
flimsy report regarding 1995’s so-called “record” temperatures, the
national media declared “Global Warming is Here,” shortly before a
gargantuan snowstorm and Arctic deep freeze paralyzed much of our
frostbitten nation.


     From Boston to D.C., they were measuring the white stuff with
yardsticks instead of rulers.  In some Midwestern cities, residents
could freeze bananas hard enough to hammer nails.  And at the
Winter Festival in St. Paul, Minn., high school bands had to be
dropped from the annual parade to make sure no one’s lips froze to
their brass instruments.


     Throughout the mercury-plummeting cold spell, most greenhouse
enthusiasts simply found a convenient igloo in which to hide.  A
few, like those featured in a cover story in Newsweek, actually
tried to shovel over their gaffe by claiming that even the blizzard
itself was proof of global warming (if you can figure that one
out).  But through it all, a great many skeptics just asked the
simply question, “Why?”  Why is it we are constantly being exposed
to such frightening scenarios about this forthcoming?
Why is this even an issue?  And why are some so bent on pushing
through solutions before we’re even sure there is a problem?  Well,
the answers to these questions make for some interesting
reading…so by all means, read on.


Off to the races
     1988.  Up until that year, the theory that man-made emissions
of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases could seriously alter
the earth’s climate was little more than a pie-in-the-sky idea,
discussed and debated perhaps in the lofty cosmos of scientific
academia, but largely unheard of down on our planet’s surface.  By
the end of that year, however, the representatives of 30 nations
had gathered in Geneva, Switzerland and formed the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with the purpose
of forging a global agreement to curb greenhouse gases.


     Of course, what is quite strange about this turn of events is
that the public had hardly even been exposed to the issue of global
warming before it became the subject of international negotiations.
In fact, it wasn’t until June 23, 1998 that the public got its
first real exposure when NASA scientist James Hansen made his
dramatic statement in a U.S. Senate hearing room that he was “99
percent” sure global warming had begun.


     Perhaps coincidentally, an international group of
environmental officials just happened to be meeting in Toronto that
same month, and issued a dire communique calling for “immediate
action by governments, the United Nations, and their specialized
agencies…to counter the ongoing degradations of the atmosphere.”
Soon after, the New York Times ran a front-page story declaring the
greenhouse threat could fundamentally alter life on earth, hundreds
of news reports on television, radio, and in weekly magazines
followed, and global warming became a public concern almost
overnight.


     Indeed, the global warming “concern” grew so quickly that
before the end of the year, in December of 1988, the normally slow-
moving U.N. General Assembly passed a special resolution calling
for the adoption of a framework convention on climate change.  At
the IPCC’s second meeting in 1990, a report was issued concluding
that man’s activities were affecting the climate and that
greenhouse gases were “building up and likely to cause
unprecedented temperature increases…”  Not surprisingly, the U.N.
called for a draft action plan to be ready in time for the Earth
Summit in Rio two years later.  And just like that, in 1992, 163
countries, including the U.S., signed the subsequent International
Convention on Climate Change calling on the nations of the world to
collectively cut greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by the year
2000.


Environmental group pressure
     Many believe that to understand the issue of global warming,
one must dive headlong into a bewildering sea of temperature
records, satellite data, and atmospheric chemistry.  To be sure,
such a dive is instructive because it reveals that the premise of global warming is still
very much theoretical.  But a far clearer picture of the
dynamics of this debate can be seen by simply looking at the
players involved because it is here that the driving forces behind
global warming quickly come into view.


     The first set of characters plainly visible on the greenhouse
stage are the activists usually found in such environmental organizations as Greenpeace, the Environmental
Defense Fund, and the NRDC.  Most of these groups not only publish
independent reports, like Greenpeace’s “Climate Time Bomb,” that
make news and propel the issue forward, but have also been key
participants in the international negotiations surrounding global
warming, such as those at the Rio Earth Summit and its follow-up
meetings.  In fact, when asked which organizations are most
involved in the issue, a staff member of the IPCC bluntly stated,
“You name it, you got it.”  And some groups, like the Sierra Club,
have even been called upon by the Clinton Administration to help
draft a domestic plan of action for reducing emissions.


     Many of those in the environmental camp no doubt believe
global warming actually has the potential to usher in doomsday.
But for some of the leadership of these groups, as evidenced by their
writings and recommendations, an at least equally important
motivation for their involvement seems to be the policy
implications of a global warming treaty that would severely diminish the use of gas-powered cars, coal-
fired plants, and the use of fossil fuels altogether.


     Christopher Flavin of the Worldwatch Institute has written,
“Global warming presents a more fundamental challenge — calling
into question the fossil-fuel powered energy systems that are the
engine of today’s economies.”  Noted Green leader Barry Commoner
says only “a comprehensive transformation of the present systems of
production” will do.  And according to Greenpeace, “[This crisis]
requires nothing less than a complete phase out of the burning of
fossil fuels for energy.”


Financial incentives
     The other primary group responsible for keeping the fires of
global warming hype stoked are otherwise reputable scientists whose
careers have one way or another been linked to the “validity” of
the greenhouse threat.  Staffing government agencies like NASA and
the departments of major universities, these scientists are largely
apolitical, but are always under intense pressure to maintain
research dollars.  And in the arena of global warming, the system
is stacked dead against level-headedness.


     A Gallop poll conducted on the greenhouse issue indicated only
two in five scientists believe a current man-induced climate change
is under way.  But according to one high-ranking official at the
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), “If a scientist comes up with
results that do not add to the environmental concern, his future
funding is in jeopardy.”


     This was echoed by Dr. Richard Lindzen of MIT who believes
“we’ve created a system of scientific support which has an
incentive structure not very different from the welfare system.”
If a scientists produces a report that is not sensational, notes
Lindzen, he may end up like MIT atmospheric scientist Reggie
Newell.  This individual produced research indicating global
warming was not occurring with great speed, and his funds were
mysteriously yanked and sent to another university in England —
one that produced more dramatic results.


     To top it off, the dollars at stake for global warming
research are no small potatoes.  The EPA’s Office of Policy
Planning and Evaluation alone maintains an annual budget of over
$30 million to investigate the issue while DOE doles out some $103
million per year to finance climate change studies of such things
as the atmosphere, oceans, and ecosystems.  But even this money is
chump change compared to the estimated several hundred million NASA
spends annually to study global warming with projects like its
“Mission to Planet Earth.”


Can cooler heads prevail?
     Truth be told, the blizzard and deep freeze of 1996 no more
disprove the theory of global warming that a hot, scorching summer
would prove that it’s true.  Global climate is simply too complex
to be pinned down by any short term event.  But with a substantial,
albeit largely unrecognized body of science out there that directly
refutes the claims of the greenhouse faithful, the most generous
thing that can be said about global warming is that, like time
travel, the search for life on Mars, or even a coming Ice Age for
that matter, it may be an interesting theory worth exploring —
sparingly.  In no way is the premise solid enough to merit the
restructuring of industrialized society.


     Already, however, a costly carbon tax on the burning of fossil
fuels and a sharp increase in mandated fuel-efficiency standards
for cars have been proposed here in the U.S.  And an upcoming
international gathering in Kyoto, Japan in 1997 may actually put
teeth into the global treaty on climate change by mandating
timetables and deadlines for emissions reductions.  One can only
hope that somewhere, somehow, cooler heads prevail in this
overheated global warming debate.


February, 1996

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About the Author: CFACT

CFACT defends the environment and human welfare through facts, news, and analysis.