Heartland Responds to Wall Street Journal Column

Published February 9, 2007

The following is a response to Sharon Begley’s Wall Street Journal column of February 9, 2007 by James M. Taylor, senior fellow for environment policy at The Heartland Institute. Taylor was quoted extensively in her article.

Sharon Begley’s February 9 article, “Climate Pessimists Were Right,” claims the just-released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Summary for Policymakers provides proof that “the reality of climate change has been even worse than the alarming forecasts.” The article misstates the facts regarding many particulars.

Begley asserts global temperatures have risen by “one-third of a degree Celsius since 1990.” This assertion is correct only if one believes the surface-based temperature stations, which are prone to corruption by the urban heat island effect and other arbitrary factors. More reliable satellite-based measurements show less warming.

Even so, the surface-based temperature readings indicate a warming of merely 2 degrees Celsius per century, which is hardly alarming. Begley herself notes that in 1990 the IPCC predicted a more significant 3 degree warming per century. That prediction was repeated in the IPCC’s 2001 report. Certainly, the ongoing pace of 2 degrees warming is not “even worse than the alarming forecasts.”

Begley asserts sea levels are rising at 3.3 millimeters per year. This is a pace of merely one foot per century. As Begley herself notes, the IPCC estimated a sea-level rise of 2 feet per century in 1990 and 1995. The ongoing pace of merely one foot of sea-level rise per century is certainly not “even worse than the alarming forecasts.”

Begley asserts that ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are “disintegrating faster than even the 2001 IPCC report anticipated.” This is simply not true. It is undisputed that Antarctica has gained, rather than lost, ice mass during the past several decades, as temperatures have significantly cooled over most of the continent. In fact, the IPCC acknowledges in its new findings the Antarctic ice cap is likely to grow rather than shrink throughout the twenty-first century. The failure of Antarctica to lose even a cubic inch of ice mass is certainly not “even worse than the alarming forecasts.”

Greenland similarly has been gaining ice mass. While the edges of the Greenland ice sheet have been retreating, the interior is gaining mass. Data as recent as 2003 indicate a net growth for the ice sheet as a whole. Only in the brief period since 2004 is there a net loss in the Greenland ice sheet. Such a short interval is insufficient to establish a long-term trend, and the rate of loss is insignificant compared to the size of the ice sheet as a whole. As climatologist Dr. Patrick Michaels, a past president of the American Association of State Climatologists, observes, “the lost ice is equivalent to .0004 percent per year of all of the ice in Greenland per year, or a mere 0.4 percent per century.” This is certainly not “even worse than the alarming forecasts.”

Begley would have been well-served to take into account the Wall Street Journal‘s own assessment (published February 5) of the new IPCC Summary. “The real news in the fourth assessment … may be how far it is backpedaling” on prior assertions of alarming climate change, reported the Journal.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is senior fellow for environment policy at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.