A nasty little brouhaha has broken out in the scientific community over global warming. It pits the estimable National Academy of Sciences against one of its past presidents, Frederick Seitz, who also is president emeritus of Rockefeller University in New York.
Seitz, a respected physicist, is circulating a petition, which has been signed by 15,000 scientists, calling for the White House and Congress to repudiate the so-called Kyoto Protocol, the United Nations treaty negotiated last December in Japan that would require the United States to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent over the next 15 years.
Seitz's petition was accompanied by an eight-page article, a review of research literature on global warming, which concluded that "predictions of harmful climatic effects due to future increases in greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are in error and do not conform to current experimental knowledge."
This article drew a rebuke from the the governing board of the National Academy of Sciences, which declared that it "does not reflect the conclusion of expert reports of the Academy." As for Seitz, he's probably blown any chance of ever being feted at an Academy testimonial dinner.
But that suits the physicist just fine. He's not interested in being politically correct about global warming. He's more concerned with being scientifically correct.
And although his former colleagues at the Academy concluded in 1991 that "greenhouse warming poses a potential threat sufficient to merit prompt responses," Seitz believes it is premature for the U.S. government to take Draconian steps to reduce the American people's consumption of fossil fuels.
It's not that the physicist rules out the possibility that hundreds of millions of gasoline-burning cars and oil-heated homes have heated up the planet. Indeed, he acknowledges that the planet's temperature has risen one degree over the past century. What is at issue, he says, is whether this temperature rise is natural or man-made.
"The subject is unresolved," Seitz says. "There needs to be a level playing field" free from politics. Then scientists can do "honest research" on global warming.
As it is, the science of global warming is anything but honest. Indeed, a decade ago, the United Nations created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was supposed to ascertain whether human activity truly was overheating the planet. Almost from the beginning, the IPCC operated under the assumption that human use of fossil fuels was having a measurable impact on the Earth's climate.
But this assumption needed the scientific community's imprimatur if it was to motivate the United States and other developed countries to curb their carbon emissions. So computer models were ginned up to "prove" that if the nations of the world continued to produce more carbon dioxide, a potentially catastrophic planetary warming would occur.
There was, however, a huge problem with the models -- they were wildly inaccurate. Indeed, the models on which the Kyoto Protocol are based predicted that the planet's temperature should have risen by as much 2.3 degrees since the start of the Industrial Revolution, when major greenhouse gas emissions began. In reality, the Earth's temperature has risen only about a third of what the models forecast.
Yet, despite the unreliability of atmospheric models, despite evidence that actually contradicts the dire warnings of global warming (like global satellite technology and data showing that, over the past 18 years, there actually has been a global cooling of .09 degrees Celsius), the National Academy of Sciences and the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change continue to misinform the public that there is "no scientific dispute" that global warming is under way and that human beings are the culprit.
That's why Frederick Seitz and the 15,000-some scientists who've signed his petition are performing a public service. They will not allow the Academy, the IPCC, or any other science organization to provide a false scientific basis for the United States government, the United Nations or any other authority to advance unfounded public policy.
The American people have a lot at stake on the outcome of the global warming debate. If they are asked to reduce fossil fuel consumption by 40 percent over the next 15 years, at considerable cost to the U.S. economy, such dramatic change in their way of life ought to be based on honest science, not politics.
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