It’s time to review the year’s happenings in the hurly-burly world of global warming. But before we go further, readers should know that global warming has morphed again.
Dissatisfied with the earlier attempt to replace “global warming” with the ho-hummer “climate change,” Presidential Science Advisor John Holdren has relabeled it “climate disruption.” The switch better enables claims that any nasty weather event can be ascribed to driving your SUV.
El Niño Reappears
The year 2010 will come in slightly warmer than recent norms, insignificantly different from the peak year of 1998. Advocates of climate alarmism will crow accordingly, just as skeptics crowed over the unusually cold 2008.
Both are meaningless: 2010 brought a strongly warming El Niño event, whereas 2008 had a strongly cooling La Niña. These are natural cycles, and the trend over the last 10 to 15 years remains flat.
But get ready for loud squawks from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration about a hot year.
Skeptics’ Ranks Augmented
Nevertheless, the year was dominated by human events, not science. Some of it was dramatic.
Preeminent Georgia Tech climatologist Judith Curry “defected” from the dogma and became a vocal critic of the IPCC and ardent spokesperson for science accountability.
Then my friend and colleague in physics, Hal Lewis, became an instant folk hero when he issued his public letter resigning from the American Physical Society. Hal was chairman of the Defense Science Board Panel on Nuclear Winter and chaired the APS Reactor Safety Study. The letter contained scathing indictments of the bogus science and moneyed interests driving the politics.
The event was hailed by skeptics and sent alarmism advocates scurrying to muster their character assassination techniques.
Alarmists in Retreat
In general, it has been a year of broad retreat by those pushing for worldwide government control of energy production and use.
The retreat began with the Climategate scandal, which one blogger wryly likened to “discovering that professional wrestling is rigged.” For readers who missed out on the saga, Andrew Montford’s The Hockey Stick Illusion: ClimateGate and the Corruption of Science is a rewarding read.
The failure of the U.N. Climate Conference in Copenhagen came soon afterward and was widely linked to the Climategate revelations. This is probably exaggerated; the reluctance of developing countries such as China to commit economic suicide was another critical factor.
Similarly, despite a convocation soliciting benevolent intervention from a Mayan goddess, the recent Cancun climate séance was jolted by an unusually blunt Japanese announcement: “Japan will not inscribe its target under the Kyoto protocol on any conditions or under any circumstances.” No binding agreement is in sight.
IPCC Under Increasing Fire
The IPCC itself came in for strong criticism from the international scientific elite. The InterAcademy Council, an organization of the world’s science academies, called for major reforms. Among these was what amounted to a recommendation that the U.N. replace the IPCC’s buffoonish chairman, Rajendra Pachauri.
In typical U.N. fashion, the calls for resignation were disregarded.
Perhaps most significant was the movement by some scientific societies toward a more moderate stance on the issue. The prestigious UK Royal Society, the world’s oldest scientific society, substantially moderated its previous alarmist position on global warming. It now enumerates the key scientific uncertainties and no longer calls for precipitous government action.
Alarmist Outlook Dims
Europe continued to back away from its public commitments to reduce emissions, as huge debt and a poor economic outlook drove home the realization the EU can ill afford expensive energy controls with no climate impact. Spain’s 21 percent unemployment was ascribed largely to the high economic cost of publicly subsidized renewable energy.
At home in the United States, the midterm elections further dimmed prospects for draconian legislation, so the Obama administration will use executive action to increase control of energy generation and use. This may be short-lived because executive action can be reversed at the next change of the guard.
The Chicago Climate Exchange closed down for lack of interest. It was to have been the mechanism for trillions of dollars to change hands in the trading of government permission to emit carbon dioxide, the by-product of breathing and feedstock of the plant world. It would have further enriched clever hedge fund managers and, yes, Al Gore.
Only errant California bucked the trend, paving the way for its accelerated economic decline and ultimate failure, which all of us will pay for, one way or another.
Public Skepticism Continues
Finally, running ahead of its elected leaders, the American public became yet more skeptical about global warming despite the 20-year media fear barrage. A recent Scientific American poll of its presumably scientifically literate readers found 78 percent think climate change is caused by solar variation or natural processes, and 69 percent think we should do nothing about climate change. According to Pew Research, among 21 social and economic issues confronting Americans, global warming ranks last in importance.
It is now safe to say the skeptic community has sealed the fate of the old climate dogma. The dogmatists still defend themselves with increasing shrillness, but that only serves to further isolate it and erode its credibility.
Roger W. Cohen ([email protected]) is a fellow of the American Physical Society. A longer version of this article first appeared in the Durango Herald. Reprinted with permission.