Half-Baked Alaska

Published June 1, 2005

The inexorable drumbeat of climate disaster stories goes on, but no one seems interested in checking the facts.

The most recent assault on common sense comes from Alaska. There, Republican Senators Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski are said to be favoring onerous climate change legislation sponsored by Arizona’s John McCain.

Political Motives

McCain thinks he can ride global warming all the way to the 2008 presidential nomination, by grabbing the horde of green-leaning California and Pacific Coast delegates that will be off-limits to his Southern competition, Bill Frist (TN) and George Allen (VA), who oppose McCain’s expensive, ineffective bill.

McCain’s bill will do absolutely nothing measurable about global warming for the foreseeable future. It’s nicknamed “Kyoto Lite” in Washington, because it is an imitation of the infamous Kyoto Protocol on global warming.

Even Al Gore’s scientists conceded that, over 50 years, with full participation by every nation involved, the change in global temperature caused by Kyoto would be a teeny thirteen-hundredths of a degree, an amount impossibly small to measure. Given that McCain’s staff surely knows this fact, the hidden agenda for his presidential strategy becomes obvious.

Alaska Cooler than Before

McCain’s bill only went down 55-43 on Halloween, 2003, so the addition of Alaska’s two conservative Republicans is ominously significant, and, as we say in academic circles, counterfactual.

Stevens and Murkowski are largely concerned that the Inuit (to old timers, “Eskimo”) culture is being damaged by warming.

Alaska has been peopled for at least 12,000 years. Within the past 12 millennia, there have been plenty of periods when it was warmer than today, and the culture flourished.

Apparently it was too much effort for the Alaska senators’ staffers to consult relevant articles in the refereed scientific literature. The most important is a landmark study, “Holocene [post ice-age] thermal maximum in the western Arctic,” published last year by 30 eminent scientists whose specialty is past climate. It appeared in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

The article notes that Alaska averaged three degrees Fahrenheit warmer for 2,000 years, from 9,000 to 11,000 years ago. Concurrently, the first civilization radiated forward.

Current Temperatures Not Uncommon

There’s another article on Alaskan climate history for the past 2,000 years, published by Feng Sheng Hu in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It notes there have been three similarly warm periods in Alaska, from A.D. 0 to 300, 850-1200, and 1800 to present. (Note that humans had no influence on global temperature 200 years ago.)

And what of the present? Brian Hartman and Gerd Wendler, of the Alaska-taxpayer-funded Alaska Climate Research Center, have written extensively on this subject. They are particularly interested in something called the “Great Pacific Climate Shift,” a sudden and dramatic warming that occurred in a one-year period around 1976. Here’s what they have written:

“When analyzing the total time period from 1951-2001, warming is observed, however the 25-year trend analyses before 1976 (1951-1975) and thereafter (1977-2001) both display cooling.”

Alaskan Climate Cooling

That’s right. The mean Alaskan temperature has been declining for the past quarter-century. All of the warming is determined by a one-year, mysterious “burp” in the temperature of the Pacific Ocean.

Is that due to human activity? Search the scientific literature for a computer model of human influence on climate that says it occurs all at once, in a single year. You won’t find one reference.

It is a shame that Stevens’ and Murkowski’s staffers didn’t do this rudimentary research. If a few more senators shift their votes on McCain’s global warming bill, the nation could be saddled with an expensive piece of legislation that will have no effect on the purported problem it purports to solve.

It’s a double shame because the known behavior of Alaskan climate is not unusual by historical standards, and even shows a net cooling in the past 25 years–the so-called era of human warming.

Patrick J. Michaels ([email protected]) is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and author of Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media. This article first appeared in the American Spectator and is reprinted with permission.