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Global Warming Got You Down

Copyright 1999, The Detroit News
Tuesday, January 26, 1999
Global warming has you down?
Then wait 5 minutes

By Leonard Evans


If the weather were warmer than normal, rather than colder, we would be hearing dire warnings about "global warming." But, interestingly enough, our recent bout of cold weather and snow has produced no worries about "global cooling."

Whether it is global cooling or warming, these terms are all too often used as if they were facts. But global warming is no more a fact than global cooling was in the 1970s. Both claims were presented as crises by communities of believers. Indeed, today's believers in warming include former believers in cooling.

What is a fact is that in 10 years time the average temperature of the Earth will be either warmer or cooler than it is today (equality, while possible, has zero probability). This statement has been true at every instant since the creation of the Earth and will continue to be true as long as the Earth exists.

Current evidence may tilt toward confirming a warming trend - but better data or analysis, or a major volcanic eruption, could change this.

The evidence supporting warming falls well short of that necessary to convict any well-represented defendant in a U.S. criminal court. The claim that warming, if it does occur, will produce dire consequences does not come even close to justifying an indictment.

Frederick Seitz, a past president of the National Academy of Sciences, has circulated a petition stating, "There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate." Almost 17,000 American scientists have signed it, including more than 100 specialists in climate.

Richard S. Lindzen, a leading expert on the physical processes of the atmosphere and the Alfred P. Sloan professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is skeptical about whether the Earth is really getting warmer. Are the views of technical experts to be summarily dismissed in favor of nontechnical advocates such as Vice-President Al Gore and activist Jane Fonda?

Thousands of delegates recently flew to Buenos Aires for another international global warming meeting, after earlier ones in Kyoto and Rio de Janeiro. Such meetings provide the same degree of consensus one expects at a meeting of creationists. Of course, everyone present at a creationism meeting accepts creationism - that is why they are there. Such consensus does not mean that the technical community accepts creationism.

Five-thousand delegates traveling an average 4,000 miles from home to attend three meetings generates 120 million passenger miles of travel in aircraft that consume more fuel per passenger mile than cars. If these folks truly believed that burning fossil fuels is destroying humanity, they have a strange way of showing it. Could they not have used modern technology to have their meetings while staying at home?

Whether the Earth becomes warmer or cooler, there will be winners and losers. The net effect may be a gain or a loss - simple intuition offers no guide. It is absurd to claim that the Earth is now at some sort of "optimum" temperature for humankind, so any change in either direction is detrimental.

That reality may not stop true believers in global warming. But there is a question you can ask them that will expose the anti-reason core of their idea and that may stop them in their tracks:

Suppose a new definitive study convinced everyone that the Earth was cooling; would you support countermeasures such as increasing the production of so-called greenhouse gases?

Leonard Evans of Bloomfield Hills is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and has a doctorate in physics from Oxford University in England.