As science retreats, scare tactics bloom

As science retreats, scare tactics bloom
April 1, 2001

"Scary Weather," screamed the cover of U.S. News and World Report for the week of February 5.

What's really scary is that the accompanying article is presented as fact rather than fiction. Atlanta's "monster ice storm that hit [last year] just before the Super Bowl" is linked to global warming. In fact, the January 28, 2000 storm was about as garden-variety as any ice storm in the mid-South can be. Its precipitation totaled half an inch.

Fusing a vivid imagination and a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, U.S. News' Nancy Shute concocts a future climate that rivals the one dreamed up as science fiction by Art Bell and Whitley Schreiber in their book, The Coming Global Superstorm. Bell and Schreiber were sufficiently artless and witless to claim aliens planted the idea in their heads.

For Shute it was IPCC cochairs Bob Watson and John Houghton. For years the two have spearheaded a campaign of climate fear. Their latest Summary for Policymakers shanghais the 2001 IPCC report, approved and released minutes before George W. Bush was sworn into office as President of the United States.

The IPCC report incorporates 245 separate storylines for future energy use and combines them with highly simplified climate calculations. The most dramatic concoction produces a warming of 11 F over the next hundred years by assuming, in part, that the cooling effects of atmospheric sulfate aerosols suddenly cease. This won't happen, and even if it did, it wouldn't matter.

In Shute's greenhouse-enhanced world vision, Miami's "chic Art deco hotels" stand waterlogged and abandoned. Malaria infests Vermont. Nebraskans gaze upon parched fields; Chicagoans die in droves from heat stroke. Crops fail in Mexico, water wars are kindled in the Middle East, Pacific Islands are swallowed by the ocean, and millions of "environmental refugees" swarm into the rest of the world from Bangladesh, China, and Southeast Asia.

This is portrayed as the result of enhanced levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide that make "bizarre weather" more common and increase the severity and frequency of all types of weather-induced scourges: tornadoes, thunderstorms, flood, drought, winter storms, heat waves, avalanches, epidemics.

Virtually every computer model of human-induced warming says that once the warming begins, it continues at a constant rate. IPCC spokespeople are fond of characterizing the warming as already underway. Therefore, the observed rate of the last 30 years should be indicative of what will happen during the next three decades.

Does anyone seriously believe there has been a net negative impact on human health and welfare as a result of climate change in recent decades? The opposite is true. People now live longer, enjoy healthier lives, and food is so abundant that agricultural commodity prices hover near record low values.

Scary scenarios invariably are cooked up by people intent upon selling something. Sometimes it's a book of fiction. Sometimes it's a magazine. Sometimes it's a carbon tax. Actual observations do not support such scenarios. Watson's and Houghton's IPCC report says so too, but they fail to mention it. For example:

  • "Changes globally in tropical storm and extratropical storm intensity and frequency are dominated by interdecadal to multidecadal variations, with no significant trends evident over the 20th century. Conflicting analyses make it difficult to draw definitive conclusions about changes in storm activity, especially in the extratropics."

  • "No systematic changes in the frequency of tornadoes, thunder days, or hail events are evident in the limited areas analyzed."

  • "Over the 20th century, there were relatively small increases in global land areas experiencing severe drought or severe wetness."

A picture of the future based upon observation, rather than imagination, isn't quite so gloomy and doomy, is it? Rather than revealing a palette dominated by variations of gray and black, it's filled with hues of blue and green. There is more water, and stronger and more-diverse plant life. This translates into more food and a healthier human population.

A future climate where the atmosphere's carbon dioxide content is enhanced is likely to lead to a more, rather than a less, stable Earth, politically and environmentally.