Tired of having their children subjected to one-sided assertions regarding a controversial scientific issue, parents in Choteau, Montana convinced their school superintendent to cancel a scheduled January global warming presentation by University of Montana professor Steve Running.
The parents’ concerns were well-founded. Running, a professor of ecology who devises forest models, is not a climate scientist. Nevertheless, he tours the state giving a slide show that closely parallels Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth.
It may have received an Oscar from the Motion Picture Academy, but Gore’s movie is so riddled with misleading assertions and factual errors that a British High Court ruled in October 2007 it can no longer be shown in public schools without an explicit disclaimer noting its many errors.
Running’s presentations are even more misleading than Gore’s.
False Warming, Hurricane Claims
For example, Running frequently asserts Montana temperatures are rising rapidly. However, the U.S. Historical Climatology Network (USHCN) maintains numerous temperature stations throughout the state, and the vast majority show essentially stable or declining temperatures in recent decades. Only a small minority show any kind of significant warming.
How does Running claim the exact opposite? He presents cherry-picked temperature data from the town of Missoula, which runs counter to the state’s overall trend.
In his standard global warming presentation, Running asserts without documentation, “we have very clear evidence” hurricane intensity is increasing due to global warming. Yet the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports, “the tropical multi-decadal signal is causing the increased Atlantic hurricane activity since 1995, and is not related to greenhouse warming.” Scientists at the National Hurricane Center report, “[W]e don’t see any new trend. … There’s no link to global warming that you can see at all.”
Running neglects to mention these highly authoritative sources that contradict his assertion.
In his standard global warming presentation, Running asserts Northern Hemisphere Arctic sea ice is shrinking, while conveniently failing to mention Antarctic sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere is at its greatest extent in recorded history. He asserts glaciers are shrinking in Antarctica, presenting data from the West Antarctic Peninsula in support of his assertion. However, for Antarctica as a whole temperatures have been getting colder, and the polar ice has been growing for decades. Only a small portion of West Antarctica defies the overall Antarctic trend.
Running deliberately presents data from the small portion of West Antarctica that is the exception to the rule, and then attempts to deceive audiences into believing this small area of shrinking ice is typical of the continent as a whole.
Less, Not More, Drought
Running asserts wildfires are on the rise and that global warming is to blame. The scientific data say just the opposite. The July 2004 issue of International Journal of Climatology reports most areas of North America “have become less arid” and “the terrestrial surface is both warmer and effectively wetter.”
The study concludes, “a good analogy to describe the changes in these places is that the terrestrial surface is literally becoming more like a gardener’s greenhouse.”
Similarly, the May 25, 2006 issue of Geophysical Research Letters reports that for most of the United States, soil moisture improved throughout the twentieth century. The authors note, “This wetting trend is consistent with the general increase in precipitation in the latter half of the twentieth century. Droughts have, for the most part, become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the country over the last century.”
These are just a few of the many examples of misleading assertions and outright falsehoods contained in Running’s presentations. Choteau parents are right to insist that if Running is allowed to make such false and misleading assertions in a public school forum, an alternative, and more factually accurate, view ought to be presented.
James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is a senior fellow of The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.