Taken By Storm

Published March 1, 2003

Taken by Storm: The Troubled Science, Policy and Politics of Global Warming
by Christopher Essex and Ross McKitrick
Key Porter Books, November 2002
320 pages paperback

Taken by Storm should be required reading for anyone–including the media and especially politicians–who wishes either to discuss or to develop policy concerning global warming.

The two authors are eminently qualified to address the topic. Dr. Christopher Essex is a professor in the Department of Applied Mathematics at the University of Western Ontario, specializing in the underlying mathematics, physics, and computation of complex dynamic processes such as climate. Dr. Ross McKitrick is an associate professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Guelph and a senior fellow of the Fraser Institute in Vancouver, British Columbia, specializing in the application of economic analysis to environmental policy design and climate change.

Essex and McKitrick open their analysis by outlining what they describe as the “Doctrine of Certainty” with respect to the issue of global warming. The Doctrine has nine not-to-be-questioned assertions:

1. The Earth is warming.

2. Warming has already been observed.

3. Humans are causing it.

4. All but a handful of scientists on the fringe believe it.

5. Warming is bad.

6. Action is required immediately.

7. Any action is better than none.

8. Claims of uncertainty in the science merely cover up the ulterior motives of individuals aiming to stop needed action.

9. Those who defend claims of uncertainty are bad people.

Each of the nine assertions, Essex and McKitrick note, is either manifestly false or the claim to know it is false.

Meaningful Data

Having established the Doctrine that drives global warming alarmists, Essex and McKitrick go on to refute the claim of human-induced (anthropogenic) global warming with unusual clarity and in great detail.

They make a key point: that the data said to prove “global temperature” have little, if any, scientific meaning or application. They explain in plain English the shortcomings of each of the data series used to document warming, and the fallacy of applying those data to global climate.

Temperature and climate, they point out, are local phenomena, and there is no way to develop a weighted, meaningful average of world or global temperature. They note historical temperature records are largely Northern Hemisphere measurements. Local temperature records do not conform to the rigorous requirements generally assigned to the collection of scientific data. For example, because collection sites tend to be located near large urban populations, they are moved from time to time as populations expand. The temperature record is tainted precisely because dense populations–and the infrastructure that serves them–have an “urban heat island” effect that skews the data.

Temperatures are taken at land-based stations located almost exclusively in the Northern Hemisphere. Land accounts for only about 30 percent of the Earth’s mass. Note Essex and McKitrick, “global temperature cannot enter the front door of scientific discourse because it makes no physical sense; it has snuck in a semantic backdoor when no one was looking.”

Media Myths

Essex and McKitrick point out the media’s shortcomings on this issue.

The actual global warming topic is far too complex for media of this nature to treat properly, but there are aspects of it that fit very well in to the commercial imperative of news reportage. If presented in a certain way, it can be used to cultivate alarm about the future. For those who traffic in worry, this makes it a good item to cover once in a while. The treatment of global warming by the media has, from the beginning, been concentrated on coming disasters and gathering doom.

The authors challenge several supposed “truths” about global warming, such as the asserted correlation between carbon dioxide levels and global warming. They point out that there have been periods in history when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have been markedly higher than those that presently exist and/or are projected; yet glaciation persisted during those periods.

They also note there is no basis whatsoever for the claim that global warming would cause more disruptive weather patterns, the melting of glaciers, an increase in sea levels, insect infestations, or the spread of tropical diseases. Not only do they refute such claims, but they also support their positions with convincing scientific theory, data, and evidence. They point out, for example, that “in the U.S., deaths due to hurricanes and tropical storms are negligible today compared to the period up to the mid-1900s, despite the enormous increase in population located on the storm-prone southeastern U.S. coastline.

“Over the past century, there is no upward trend in the rate of tropical storms impinging on North America. From 1900-1959, there were on average 7.3 extreme hurricanes making landfall in the U.S. per decade. From 1960-96, the average was 5.4 extreme hurricanes per decade. In 2000, no hurricanes made landfall in the U.S. There is no upward trend in the frequency of Atlantic storms, nor is there any upward trend in the severity of storms.”

Kyoto Shortcomings

Essex and McKitrick turn next to the alleged solution to global warming: the Kyoto Protocol. They sum up the key problems associated with the Kyoto Protocol as follows:

1. Its goals and results cannot physically be defined or measured.

2. It is inherently unstable and unenforceable.

3. Economic leakages will offset up to half its effects, even if everyone is honest.

4. If parties begin cheating, it is almost impossible to audit them, let alone force them to stop.

Look Before Leaping

In the concluding section of the book, the authors offer these observations:

As to the question of whether we would “want” to change the climate if we could, we must look at the costs and benefits of small steps. The steps that involve carbon dioxide emission reductions (such as Kyoto) cost more than any benefits they are likely to generate. So they are not worth taking.

So the best policy on global warming is to make sure science is free to investigate it, without having to prove that this or that is relevant to policy issues. Otherwise the best policy is to do nothing unless further information indicates otherwise.

Taken By Storm is one of the most comprehensive and readable publications on the topic of global warming currently available.

Terry Francl is senior economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

For more information …

including links to Web sites that sell the book, point your Web browser to http://www.takenbystorm.info/.