Climate Change's Carnival Atmosphere

The global warming carnival hits its full stride this week in preparation for the release of the long-awaited and much-hyped United Nations report on global warming. It’s unfortunate for the climateers that this week’s climate science doesn’t live up to all the hoopla.

The week started out with a Congressional hearing in which Rep. Henry Waxman accused the Bush administration of trying to squelch the science about global warming. Rep. Waxman seems to have overlooked the fact that, if silencing debate was the administration’s goal, there was a far better way to go about achieving that goal – that is, by cutting off the alarmist's financial support.

The Bush administration, after all, is by far the largest funder of global warming alarmism, pouring about $30 billion of federal dollars into climate- and alternative energy-related research over the last six years. Many of the beneficiaries of this taxpayer largesse, particularly NASA’s James Hansen, have become media darlings.

Not to be outdone, Sen. Barbara Boxer’s Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing during which, as the Aberdeen American News (South Dakota) put it, “presidential contenders for 2008… expounded – and at times tried to outdo each other – on why they believed Congress must act to reduce heat-trapping greenhouse gases.”

And those were some of the more tame circus acts.

Al Gore was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and an Oscar for his global warming alarmism. Paris officials announced that the Eiffel Tower would shutdown its 20,000 flashing light bulbs and go dark for five minutes on the eve of the release of the UN report. The National Football League announced that it would plant 3,000 trees to offset carbon dioxide emissions caused by this week’s Super Bowl. A California state legislator introduced a bill to ban regular (incandescent) light bulbs and to mandate fluorescent lighting in homes and businesses by 2012. The bill is called the “How Many Legislators Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb Act.”

These hijinks also extended into the science community.

First, the UN isn’t releasing its full report this week – just the curiously edited “Summary for Policy Makers.” The detailed report on the science won’t be issued until May or so because it’s not finished.

If you’re wondering how the UN can issue a summary of a report that’s not even finished, fear not. The UN has announced that changes to the full report shall be made “to ensure consistency with the Summary for Policy Makers." The UN process – akin to shooting first and asking questions later –is the exact opposite of the traditional scientific method.

In an apparent effort to either out-shine or to add urgency to the UN report, a new study co-authored by NASA’s James Hansen (Science, Feb. 2) claims that the UN’s climate models have under-predicted actual climate change, particularly with respect to sea level. Hansen’s study reports that the climate models: (1) slightly underestimate actual global temperature increase; and (2) greatly underestimate actual sea-level rise.

Hansen and his co-authors conclude that their findings show that previous projections have not exaggerated, but may in some respects have underestimated, the extent of climate change. But Hansen’s global temperature claims are questionable since the locations he relies on for temperature measurements are as much as 1200 kilometers (720 miles) apart.

As an example of what this means, a temperature taken in New York, N.Y. (where the average February high is 42 degrees Fahrenheit) would be assumed to be representative of the temperature data from as far away as Atlanta, Ga. (where the average February high is 57 degrees Fahrenheit). That can obviously be quite a large (and uncertain) assumption in a game where the alarmists make their gloom-and-doom predictions based on average global temperature changes on the order of a few tenths of a degree over several decades.

Moreover, NASA’s own data indicate that there appears to be no significant change in temperature trend since the early 20th century. No doubt this is why Hansen and his co-authors admit in their study that the time period they considered for their temperature analysis (1990-2006) is “relatively short,” rendering it “difficult to establish the reasons” for this warming.

Not mentioned, however, is the fact that Hansen’s claim of greater warming during 1990-2006 is driven in large part by a brief spike in warming (caused by an El Nino event) that occurred during 1997-1998. The spike is over and subsequent temperature data indicate that the warming trend is back to normal.

With respect to sea level rise, according to another new study, the mean level of sea-level rise has not accelerated recently and was more than 30 percent greater during 1904-1953 than during 1954-2003. As with the temperature data, Hansen and his co-authors acknowledge in their paper that the time periods are too short to draw conclusions: “Again, we caution that the time interval of overlap is short, so that internal decadal climate variability could cause much of the discrepancy.”

Showmanship, rather than facts, is driving the climate debate – and, yes, there still is a raging debate despite pronouncements to the contrary by Al Gore and the mainstream media.

Steven Milloy publishes and He is a junk science expert, and advocate of free enterprise and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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