American Hubris and Mongolian Cold

Published June 1, 2000

Sometimes it is embarrassing how self-absorbed the power elites in the United States can be. Now is one of those times.

In our country we have fatuous politicians, government employees, and their friends in the media, universities and the like who believe they are smarter than the rest of us and were put on Earth to tell us all how to live. The latest reason they have seized on to advance their agenda of control is the speculative notion of catastrophic global warming caused by human industrial activity–and particularly the burning of fossil fuels.

Since there is no science that supports this speculation, they resort to weather forecasts from flawed, flux-adjusted computer models. They also torture observations that appear to support the preposterous notion of inexorable, human-induced, severe global warming while ignoring data that both contradict and disprove the paradigm. In the process, they firmly establish their total disregard for real, on-the-ground, normal people even while they hype the need to turn control over to them.

All across America, spring arrived early on the heels of a mild winter. National Climatic Data Center records show that with the exception of a few cold and snowy weeks in the Northeast toward the end of January, every part of the U.S. shared in unseasonably high temperatures all through winter. In our self-absorption we focused on cherry blossoms popping out earlier than expected in Washington DC and its surrounding suburbs. Newscasters expressed alarm at the sight of daffodils, forsythia, and other early spring blooms. Curt Suplee in The Washington Post described the early-blooming plants as “precocious” and implied human-induced global warming was to blame.

But things couldn’t have been more different on the far side of the world. In Mongolia and north central China, winter blasted in early and fiercely. It scarcely let up. In September, unusually strong blizzards began striking the area, burying the steppes and grasslands in a thick mantle of snow and ice. Regional temperatures plunged far below normal, while snow cover and the duration of snow cover were far above the norm.

Some 30 percent of Mongolia’s 2.4 million people live a nomadic life as herdsmen. For them, this winter was a disaster. With grazing lands beneath a frozen, dense layer of snow and ice, more than 1.4 million head of livestock starved to death. Each week, it was estimated, another 300,000 animals died. Those herds of camel, goat, yak, sheep, and horse are central to Mongolia’s economy. The herdsmen use the animals’ meat for food, burn their dung for heat, use their pelts for clothing and shelter, harness them for transportation, and sell their products for cash necessary to purchase other necessities.

As the herdsmen’s winter stockpile of dried and frozen meat began to run out, the regional Red Cross director predicted the toll in human death and suffering would mount rapidly. There were reports of death by starvation. Hospital admissions rose as the most susceptible Mongolians–the very young and the elderly–weakened.

There have been deaths from related causes as well: exposure to extreme cold as temperatures plummeted to 50 degrees below zero, and instances of suicide blamed on the psychological strain induced by a complete loss of livelihood maintained for generations. The International Red Cross called for food aid. Without it, widespread malnutrition and perhaps even larger-scale starvation would have stalked the countryside.

Curt Suplee didn’t write about Mongolian cold. Neither did Bill Stevens in The New York Times. Al Gore had nothing to say. Had it been “Mongolian heat,” all three would have been in full cry twisting regional weather into global lessons.

What should we conclude from this?

Those with overwhelming ambition and an all-compassing regulatory agenda based on the scare of a looming climate apocalypse care more about themselves than others. The global warming argument has nothing to do with climate or people and never has. It is about control and power, period. It also is about American hubris under the harsh spotlight of human suffering in the Mongolian cold.

Fredrick Palmer is president of the Greening Earth Society.