Global Warming for Dummies

Global Warming for Dummies
January 4, 2008

Maureen Martin

Maureen Martin passed away on February 5, 2013. The Heartland Institute's page in tribute to her... (read full bio)

Since global warming is the biggest threat to mankind in history, it's important to talk about it correctly.

Do over.

Since climate change is the biggest threat to mankind in history, it's important to talk about it correctly.

The global warming movement gorged itself on reports that recent years were some of the warmest on record. But when other years, such as 2006, were cooler than recorded, global warming threatened to become a bad joke uttered through frostbitten lips. But it turns out global cooling is also caused by increased emissions of greenhouse gases. Or so we are told. So now it's called climate change, rather than global warming.

That's not the only example. Take the term "greenhouse gases." Gas is never good, particularly in crowded places. And it's not a far stretch from "gas" to "pollutant." So limiting the emission of greenhouse gases--"GHGs," to the initiated--into the earth's atmosphere is really all about limiting the emission of pollutants poisoning the very air we breathe. Or so we are told, as corporations trip over themselves in the race to become the greenest.

Greenhouse gases, though, if one investigates carefully, consist mostly of water vapor and carbon dioxide, the latter emitted when humans exhale. But no one would grant bragging rights to controlling emissions of water vapor and carbon dioxide. Thus, the term "greenhouse gases" was born.

It's also common to hear about the "scientific consensus" that climate change is caused by manmade emissions of greenhouse gases. It's a made-up term. A "consensus" is "an opinion held by all or most" (Webster's New World College Dictionary, 4th ed. 2002.) So "scientific consensus" must be an opinion held by "all or most" scientists.

Leave aside the inconvenient fact "all or most" scientists don't hold the opinion that climate change is caused by manmade emissions of greenhouse gases. "Scientific consensus" is like what Richard Dawson used to say on Family Feud: "Survey says …."

This loosey-goosey term has now replaced the "scientific method." Schoolchildren are taught--or at least, they used to be taught--about the rigid process by which scientific observations are made and then interpreted. As one science text explains, "It is very important to distinguish between observations and theories. An observation is something that is witnessed and can be recorded. A theory is an interpretation--a possible explanation of why nature behaves in a particular way. Theories inevitably change as more information becomes available. …" (Steven S. and Susan A. Zumdahl, Chemistry, Houghton Mifflin Company 2000). Or not.

So the scientific consensus--make that scientific theory--that climate change is due to manmade emissions of greenhouse gases would have to be retracted as facts inconsistent with that theory emerge, as they have.

But that doesn't fit the agenda of the climate change movement. If the facts don't fit, you musn't quit. Just change the vocabulary.

Maureen Martin (martin@heartland.org), an attorney, is senior fellow for legal affairs at The Heartland Institute.

Maureen Martin

Maureen Martin passed away on February 5, 2013. The Heartland Institute's page in tribute to her... (read full bio)