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Global Warming Blues

The 11th annual meeting of global warming enthusiasts in Montreal isn’t turning out to be a very happy event. Even though this is the first opportunity for the burgeoning global climate bureaucracy to celebrate the full implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, the realities of science, economics and politics are raining on its parade.

First, a new study published this week in the journal Nature (Dec. 1) turns global warming alarmism on its head. British researchers reported that the ocean current responsible for the tropical winds that warm Europe’s climate has decreased by an estimated 30 percent since 1957. The headline of the New Scientist report (Nov. 30) on the study nicely captured its import, “Failing ocean current raises fear of mini ice age.”

That conclusion, however, doesn’t jibe at all with the reality of European climate, which began warming 200 years ago and is now setting the modern records for warm temperatures that the pro-Kyoto crowd likes to hyperventilate about. The European Environment Agency, in fact, claimed on Nov. 29 that Europe is currently facing the “worst” warming in 5,000 years with 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2004 being the four hottest years on record.

While temperatures can only go up or down at any given moment, global warmers seem to want to have it both ways so that any change in climate, regardless of direction, can be attributed to human activity.

The British newspaper The Independent, for example, reported in its Nov. 30 article about the Nature study that “the real evidence does point to a possible one degree Centigrade cooling over the next two decades.” But the newspaper reported in another same-day article that, “the [record hot] summer of 2003 was triggered by global warming caused by man-made emissions of greenhouse gases.” Such contradictory reporting casually ignores the reality that greenhouse gas emissions can’t simultaneously cool and warm Europe.

The second paragraph of The Independent’s article on the Nature study stated, “Disruption to the conveyor-belt mechanism that carries warm water to Britain's shores was the basis of the Hollywood disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow.” But two paragraphs later, however, the paper noted “Scientists say such predictions are fantasy.”

It’s cooling. It’s warming. It’s disaster. It’s fantasy. Whatever “it” is, it can’t be comforting to the Kyoto believers in Montreal who seem to think they know for certain whether and how human activity impacts global climate.

A more sober reality, though, is that whatever slight impact humans might have on the climate, it is too small to measure – a point made in a study just published by Swiss researchers in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews (November 2005).

The study reviewed prior efforts to reconstruct global temperatures of the last 1,000 years. It concluded that natural temperature variations over the last millenium may have been so significant that they would “result in a redistribution of weight towards the role of natural factors in [causing] temperature changes, thereby relatively devaluing the impact of [manmade] emissions and affecting future predicted [global climate] scenarios.”

“If that turns out to be the case,” the researchers stated, “agreements such as the Kyoto protocol that intend to reduce emissions of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, would be less effective than thought.”

So senior U.S. climate negotiator Harlan Watson was on very firm ground when he stated this week in Montreal that, “I reject the premise that the Kyoto-like agreement is necessary to address the issue.”

The U.S. stance angered the Montreal revelers. “When you walk around the conference hall here, delegates are saying there are lots of issues on the agenda, but there's only one real problem, and that’s the United States,” a Greenpeace International spokesman told the Associated Press.

But the U.S. isn’t the “real problem” for global warmers – reality is.

First, the available scientific data simply don’t add up to their desired conclusion that humans are harming global climate. Next, even if we were to forsake science and consider a position of “erring on the side of caution,” the economic cost – 2 percent or more of global economic productivity – is a steep and certain price to pay for extremely uncertain, and potentially negative, consequences.

Finally, the Kyoto protocol itself has been a colossal flop. European signatories to the treaty aren’t meeting their current emissions reduction targets, aren’t likely to in the future, and are looking for ways out of their commitments.

Even Kyoto’s knight-in-shining armor, UK prime minister Tony Blair, in what has been dubbed the “Blair Switch,” has embraced the latter two points. In September, Blair announced that he had given up on climate change treaties because, “The truth is, no country is going to cut its growth or consumption substantially in light of a long-term environmental problem.”

Especially if that “problem,” so far as we can tell after several decades and many billions of dollars of research, is entirely unproven.

Steven Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and CSRwatch.com, is adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and is the author of Junk Science Judo: Self-defense Against Health Scares and Scams (Cato Institute, 2001).

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