New Data Cools Global Warming Alarmists

Published November 1, 1998

The Clinton Administration is dodging more than just economic reality when it comes to activist efforts to impose mandatory emissions curbs on industrialized nations via the Kyoto treaty on climate change.

Despite the steady drum beat of global-warming doom from media elites, such as reporter Bill Stevens of the New York Times and reporter Joby Warrick of the Washington Post, it’s becoming all too apparent that the scientific evidence for human-induced global warming is faltering. Research based on careful examination of ice cores, soil cores and ocean sediment cores shows that the Holocene period (the period since the last major ice age, or approximately the past 11,000 years) has already experienced huge natural swings in temperature, larger and more precipitous than those predicted–with accompanying disaster scenarios–by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The latest research paper on ice cores, “Past Temperatures Directly from the Greenland Ice Sheet” by D. Dahl-Jensen and others and published last month in the journal Science, clearly shows much warmer temperatures 6,000 years ago and even 1,000 years ago.

A caption from one of the graphs is particularly memorable: “The Little Ice Age is followed by a temperature rise culminating around 1930 AD. Temperature cools between 1940 and 1995.”

Cooling? What about all those “hottest ever” months touted by Vice President Albert Gore? What about them indeed. The government’s temperature data has been coming under attack from right and left. Staffers at the National Climate Data Center (NCDC) admitted, in a recent email memo, that the methodology they use to arrive at global temperature numbers has never been “documented in the open refereed literature” (that is, peer-reviewed).

This prompted University of Virginia climatologist Patrick Michaels to charge that top officials at the NCDC are more concerned with “political impact” than any realistic assessment of global climate.

Rather than using an actual record of global temperatures, the NCDC cites an “index” combining land surface temperatures, sea surface temperatures, and temperatures from ocean buoys deployed in the 1980’s. But the sea surface temperatures were adjusted upward by 25 percent after 1982 in order to calibrate them with land surface temperatures, says Michaels, and it is this unorthodox adjustment that causes the years after 1982 to appear warmer.

The siting of thermometer stations has also been criticized. After recent news reports in California revealed that some thermometers were located on tarred rooftops or adjacent to structures that were clearly radiating heat, the National Weather Service ordered the relocation of all rooftop temperature stations to “more representative locations.”

The Weather Service declined to reveal just how many rooftop stations there were or how many years their readings may have been distorted, but it is well known that many of these stations were moved from ground-level to the tops of Post Office buildings during the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration, when the federal government began consolidating the Weather Bureau and transferring the whole operation to the US Department of Commerce.

Colorado climate scientist James K. Hall questions the precision of climate data that is presented in public debates. According to official manuals, temperature sensors that are standard at most National Weather Service offices and Federal Aviation Administration airport sites are considered “accurate” when they take a reading within 1 degree Celsius of the actual temperature. The warming over the last century (0.6 degrees C), as presented to the public by the government, is measured in tenths of a degree Celsius.

If temperature sensors are giving “ballpark” numbers, how much faith should we put in the temperature record?

With the ongoing core-sample research and with serious doubts being raised about the accuracy of the temperature data, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the seemingly endless round of hysterical press briefings staged by Vice President Gore over the past few months have been an exercise in politics, not science.

The catastrophe train has jumped the track, leaving the administration’s global warming promoters stranded amid increasing talk of postponing a vote in the US Senate on ratification of the Kyoto treaty.

Postponement, of course, is risky from the Green point of view. Activists have been insisting that the government must take action on global warming “before it’s too late”– i.e. before Congress gets a closer look at the costs, and before scientific research reduces the problem to less than regulatory size.

Since new economic and scientific assessments are gaining attention–but the climate treaty isn’t–they’re getting understandably peevish.

Last month in San Francisco, a Green activist nailed Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman in the face with a coconut custard pie. If that’s the best they can muster–and we have a choice–make ours lemon meringue.

Candace Crandall is a research associate with the Science and Environmental Policy Project, Washington DC.