Weather And Politics

Copyright 1998 Investor's Business Daily, Inc.
January 13, 1998

Recent news on the climate front could have been scripted by Al Gore himself. Federal scientists last week announced that 1997 was the hottest year on record and said human activity was at least partly to blame. But the full story is neither so simple nor so scary.

The alarming climate report came from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which answers to a White House that is campaigning hard to make the public believe in the global warming threat.

The Clintonites caved in at Kyoto a few weeks back, signing a treaty that would condemn the U.S. to a slow-growth energy regimen as a way of cutting back global warming. Now they seem to have NOAA on board.

NOAA's message was right in tune with the administration's agenda. "For the first time, I feel confident in saying there's a human component" in the warming temperatures, said NOAA meteorologist Elbert W. Friday Jr.

Such statements from NOAA experts could help the Kyoto treaty's chances in a largely skeptical Senate. But the Senate needs to take its time and consider all the data. Buried in the coverage of the NOAA report - or not mentioned at all - are other facts that give the lie to the crisis talk.

NOAA itself noted, for instance, that 1997's heat was due to a large El Nino effect in the Pacific Ocean. The record-setting global average of 62.45 degrees Faherenheit - three-quarters of a degree above the average of the past 30 years - came from observations on water as well as land. Land readings alone were short of record levels, though NOAA insisted they would still put '97 among the 10 or so warmest years of the century.

NOAA scientists aren't the only ones tracking the earth's climate. Others have come up with different results, though these never seem to get the same spotlight as the doomsayers' findings do.

In fact, a sharply different report on 1997 came out the very same day that NOAA made its findings public. Two Alabama scientists said Thursday that satellite readings of the earth's atmosphere showed '97 was a bit on the cool side.

John W. Christy of the University of Alabama, Huntsville, and Roy Spencer of NASA said the year came in a shade below the 1982-'91 average (.08 degree Celsius). Christy and Spencer now have 19 years of satellite records (see chart) showing no discernible trend toward either warming or cooling.

Why the difference? That's one of those mysteries science has yet to clear up. Researchers are just starting to grasp the complexities of the atmosphere, and they are far from ready to make firm predictions of what the climate will be 50 or 100 years from now.

We don't doubt the sincerity of NOAA's scientists, but even the most sincere among us can be guilty of jumping to conclusions.

Politicians do this routinely. The ones who signed the Kyoto treaty knew just enough climate science to work themselves into a panic. They knew far too little to understand what's really happening on land and sea and in the air. The trouble is that panic too often makes policy, while real science often doesn't even make it onto the evening news.

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Copyright © 1998 Steven J. Milloy. All rights reserved. Site developed and hosted by WestLake Solutions, Inc.