Latest Global Warming Claims Are Flawed, Inflated

Published May 1, 2004

The release of five gloom-and-doom articles on global warming and climate change, timed just as the Democratic Party was settling on a nominee, was no accident. Nor was it surprising that those articles should contain major flaws, inflated claims, and sweeping generalizations.

But what remains unanswered is how this stuff continues to make it through the scientific review process and editorial boards of major newspapers and magazines.

Testing Hypotheses

Every scientific article on global warming can be considered a hypothesis, and therefore a proposition that can be tested.

Start with Paul Epstein’s January 28 piece in the New York Times. Epstein, from Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, blamed the East Coast’s somewhat cold winter on global warming, writing, “New Yorkers may be able to blame the city’s current cold spell … on global warming.” That is based upon his theory that melting of Greenland’s ice is cooling the U.S. Northeast.

That is a testable hypothesis. Check the long climate history of New York’s Central Park for any significant January cooling. There isn’t any. Nor is there any warming. A mere two years ago, in a warm winter, the same Times quoted the same Harvard Center (this time it was Eric Chivian, the director), on March 10, 2002, claiming the warmth of the Big Apple’s winter was caused by global warming.

On a related front, the February 9 issue of Fortune magazine claimed a new ice age is imminent, at least for the U.S. and Europe, within the next 18 years, again caused by the melting of Greenland from global warming.

Another testable hypothesis. Southern Greenland, where it gets warm enough to melt very much, shows a net cooling trend for the last seven decades, even as it has lost glacial ice. If it loses ice while cooling, southern Greenland was simply destined to melt, no matter what. That’s because Greenland itself is a huge relic of the last ice age, a frozen mass stuck way too far south by global standards. (Central Greenland shows a buildup of ice, and the island as a whole is neutral with respect to its ice balance in recent decades.)

On February 9, National Geographic Online claimed European Neanderthals were wiped out by the ice age some 60,000 years ago. Apparently they couldn’t adapt to a changing landscape that made hunting more difficult. Obviously, National Geographic managed to miss the other side of the coin: The human competition to Neanderthals –i.e., us–was clever enough to adapt to climate change.

Model Adjustment Needed

On February 10, a press release from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest Laboratory predicted “global warming will diminish the amount of water stored as snow in the Western United States by 70 percent” by 2050. According to L. Ruby Lueng, who directed the research, “This is a best-case scenario.”

Actually, the prediction is based upon something that has been dead wrong for decades.

Lueng’s climate model increases carbon dioxide–the main cause of warming–by 1 percent a year, which brings the concentration in the atmosphere to 65 percent above today’s level by 2050. But that rate of increase stopped nearly a third of a century ago, as more energy-efficient technologies came online and as affluence reduced birthrates over much of the world. The actual increase has fluctuated between being a constant rate and a 0.4 percent increase. Both reduce the increase to 2050 by a whopping two-thirds, and warming must be adjusted down a similar amount.

Several prominent scientists have adjusted their projections of warming downward to accommodate this reality that now spans an entire generation. It is stunning that our most prestigious government laboratories are literally one-third of a century behind the times when it comes to global warming.

Another reason atmospheric carbon dioxide growth has slowed is because the planet is becoming greener, in response to longer growing seasons and slightly warmer temperatures. February’s print version of National Geographic took this good news and somehow turned it into gloom and doom.

Page 126 of the issue offers the “Final Edit” section. It shows a peaceful tableaux of the cycle of carbon dioxide through the atmosphere and the biosphere with a picture of seashells, the ocean, and a shorebird, by photographer Peter Essick. According to Geographic, “Peter’s dreamy picture of an egret wading on shell-laden rocks on Florida’s Sanibel Island seemed to fit the story’s mood.”

Obviously, that wasn’t alarming enough. So they changed the picture. “At the last moment, she [editor Elaine Bradley] and photo editor Dennis Dimick chose a new tack to ‘ramp up the energy of the story,’ says Dennis. They changed the opening picture to one of a blazing fire … launching the story with speed and drama.”

National Geographic is apparently proud to be hyping climate change. We’re in the midst of the biggest publicity splash ever on global warming, which may have something to do with the fact that it’s an election year.

Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and author of The Satanic Gases. His email address is [email protected].