When Vice President Gore recently declared that this year is the hottest in the past 400 years and that this increased heat was caused by mankind, there were a number of things that he failed to mention.
First, 400 years ago we were in the depths of a frigid period that lasted more than 300 years, right up to the early 19th Century. This prolonged cold period is known as the Little Ice Age and accounts for much of Gore's 400 years.
Second, there is still a good deal of argument among the scientific community about whether this year is warmer, or more prone to worse weather, than was the case, say, in the 1930s when the United States was subject to searing heat and drought that turned part of America into a vast dust bowl. There is enough "noise" in the data, as well as measurement biases caused by such things as the "urban heat island" effect, that any firm statement about this year's being warmer than some year in the past is quite uncertain.
There are four incontrovertible points about the global warming scare that are rarely reported in the press:
-- It is completely a child of computer models - models that have never been verified by empirical data.
-- Gore's culprit, carbon dioxide (CO2), is as essential to plants as oxygen is to animals. Indeed, some scientists believe that a part of the life-enhancing "green revolution" of the past few decades can be traced to elevated CO2 levels.
-- CO2 levels are quite low relative to known past levels. In fact, there is no known scientific definition of what might represent a "dangerous" level of CO2. Hence, there can be no objective scientific case made for its control.
-- By far the most important "greenhouse gas" is water vapor, something that not even Gore wants removed from the atmosphere.
The uncertainty about whether global warming is taking place and what, if any, harmful effects such warming may have can be illustrated by the fact that there are respectable scientists whose computer models forecast that such warming could produce cooling, especially in Northern Europe. Some models forecast a rise in sea levels, others predict a fall.
The situation is rapidly becoming one in which virtually any kind of climate change can be blamed on human activity. We need to be particularly skeptical of science that offers such a wide variety of predictions that it cannot be refuted.
Since the 1997 global warming conference in Kyoto, Japan, those who would control our lives have been all atwitter about ways to tax us in order to reduce our CO2 production. A levy on energy seems to be the favorite tax du jour. Yet the full report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose research formed the basis of the conference, is replete with doubts about man's influence on the global climate. A number of participants in those findings have pointed out that "The Summary for Policymakers" (which is what the press read) did not faithfully represent these doubts.
Finally, Al Gore did not tell us how much "junk science" is emanating from his hand-picked administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Carol Browner. The situation has become so bad that "scientists, managers and affiliated persons" in a recent letter to the Washington Times accused the EPA of basing regulations and enforcement on poor to nonexistent science. The chairman of the House Science Committee, James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) has formally requested an investigation of the EPA by the General Accounting Office. Such an investigation is long overdue.
Ben Bolch is Robert McCallum Distinguished Professor of Economics at; Rhodes College. Harold Lyons is emeritus professor of chemistry at; Rhodes College.
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