A Turning Point in the Global Warming Debate?

Published October 18, 2007

August 2007 may go down in the history of science as the month when scientific research made a decisive turn away from dubious warnings of climate catastrophes and toward a much different thesis, that the modern warming is moderate and not man-made.

First, NASA acknowledged it had accidentally inflated its official record of surface temperatures in the U.S. beginning with the year 2000. The revised data show 1998 falling to second place behind 1934 as the warmest year, followed by 1921, 2006, 1931, 1999, and 1953. Four of the top 10 years on record are now from the 1930s, before human emissions could have been responsible, while only three of the top 10 (1998, 2006, 1999) are from the past 10 years.

New data are also emerging that the temperature record should be adjusted even further downward. Meteorologist Anthony Watts has launched an effort to photograph the 1,221 “most reliable” surface temperature stations in the U.S. to see if land use changes over the years may be contaminating their records. Images of the stations he’s photographed so far (available at www.surfacestations.org) show many cases where the stations seem to be reporting warming caused by nearby buildings, parking lots, or heat-generating activities.

The surface temperature record in the U.S. was thought to be the most accurate of all the nations in the world. If that record is unreliable, how reliable is the global temperature record?

The new official temperature trend in the U.S. since the 1930s shows a warming so small it is within the admitted range of error of the instrument record. In other words, there’s been no warming trend in the U.S. that could be attributed to human greenhouse gas emissions. How many people know that?

Further adjustments in response to Watts’ work and the findings of other scientists who believe the “urban heat island effect” has been underestimated may show the U.S. cooled in the past half-century. Wouldn’t that be funny? But more seriously, how credible, then, are claims of significant global warming, which are based on even more poorly maintained temperature stations in Russia and various Third World countries? They, too, will need to be adjusted downward.

Also in August, research published in the American Geophysical Union’s Geophysical Research Letters online edition by Roy Spencer, a principal research scientist in the University of Alabama – Huntsville’s Earth System Science Center, and coauthors again confirmed the existence of a natural climatic heat vent at the equator. The phenomenon, first identified in 2001 by Richard Lindzen at MIT and a NASA research team, acts like a “natural thermostat,” releasing heat into space whenever temperatures rise above a certain level.

The supposedly sophisticated global climate models don’t have any code written for a natural heat vent. Their response to the discovery since 2001 has been to pretend the climatic heat vent doesn’t exist (despite NASA’s call at the time for the modeler community to take the development seriously). After August 2007, they can’t pretend any longer.

The proven existence of a natural heat vent at the equator would flat-out end the debate over global warming. It would explain why observed warming during the past half-century is less than half as much as the computer models predict. It would reveal a climate system more dynamic than previously thought, one able to breathe in man’s considerable carbon dioxide emissions and exhale some part of it into space.

You probably haven’t read about any of these scientific discoveries in your daily newspapers. The media, with some notable exceptions, have largely ignored these latest developments, focusing instead on the recently released policymaker’s summary of the fourth report of the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It proclaims, incongruously, that there is near-certainty that the cause of the modern warming is human.

But it’s odd, isn’t it, that the executive summary of a “scientific” report would be released three months before part one of the complete report was finished? (The other parts haven’t even been released yet.) Or that its supporters freely admit the summary document was edited by a small group of government officials to make it agree with their political agendas?

The latest IPCC report isn’t just unreliable, it’s wrong. As S. Fred Singer noted in a letter published in the September 2006 issue of Geotimes, a U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) report, published in April 2006, shows a global warming pattern (in latitude and altitude) that differs dramatically from the pattern calculated by state-of-the-art greenhouse models. In other words, the observed and theoretical “fingerprints” don’t match. Singer says we can therefore state with confidence that the human contribution to current warming is not significant and outweighed by natural climate variability.

The science has clearly turned away from dubious theories and predictions of climate catastrophe. The “skeptics,” pilloried just a few weeks ago by a cover story in Newsweek and countless “news” stories written by uninformed and gullible reporters, have been vindicated. It should be a happy ending.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the world’s policymakers will take note and stop their stampede toward passing expensive and damaging laws to address a nonexistent problem. Global warming may no longer be a problem, but laws and taxes passed in its name may be with us for a long time.

Joseph Bast ([email protected]) is president of The Heartland Institute, publisher of Environment & Climate News, and coauthor of Eco-Sanity: A Common-Sense Guide to Environmentalism (Madison Books, 1994, 1996).