Science Steals the Show at Vermont Trial

Science Steals the Show at Vermont Trial
July 1, 2007

James M. Taylor, J.D.

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News, a national monthly... (read full bio)

The high-profile global warming trial in Vermont focused on the legal question of whether Vermont's proposed law amounted to de facto automotive fuel efficiency standards. But clashes between scientists regarding the theory of global warming itself stole the show.

Hansen: 'Guaranteed Disaster'

Vermont called NASA scientist James Hansen as its primary science witness.

Hansen, who has received a quarter-of-a-million dollars in grant money from the left-wing Heinz Foundation run by Teresa Heinz Kerry, testified that if global temperatures rise by 2 to 3º Celsius over the next century, there would be a "guaranteed disaster" of melting ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, flooding the world with up to 100 feet of sea level rise.

Christy: Flooding Scare Unfounded

Alabama State Climatologist John Christy, who is also director of the Earth Systems Science Center at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, refuted Hansen's alarmist claims.

Christy pointed out Hansen's sea level prediction is outside the mainstream of scientific thought and is contradicted by estimates from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which predicts a seven-inch rise in sea levels during the upcoming century.

"Rapid sea level rise is unsupported by the evidence," Christy summarized.

In an interview for this story, Christy further explained, "We know that 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, Greenland was 2 to 3 degrees warmer than it is today, and yet its ice sheet did not melt. Hansen has asserted that a rapid melting is occurring in Greenland, yet the allegedly rapid melting would have risen sea level by only 1 1/2 inches over the next 100 years.

"But even that point is moot," Christy said, "as the allegedly rapid melting occurred over a period of only two to three years, and it has essentially stopped. Of the two main glaciers responsible for that temporary melting, one has stopped entirely and the other has slowed down by half. This is why you don't extrapolate from just [a few] years of data."

Law Is Merely Symbolic

Christy also testified the impact of the Vermont law on global climate "would be below our ability to measure or detect." Even if the entire country and all nations in the world adopted the Vermont restrictions, Christy noted, only one or two hundredths of a degree of warming would be mitigated.

Vermont's law, even if implemented worldwide, "will have no discernible impact on climate," Christy testified.

During cross-examination, Hansen admitted Christy's statement was correct. "But even a small change is potentially important," Hansen argued.

Plant Growth Harmful?

Auto industry attorneys grilled Hansen about inconsistencies in his testimony, using video clips of Hansen in prior testimony that differed from his testimony at trial.

In cross-examination of Christy, State of Vermont lawyer Matt Pawa pointed out Christy has frequently cited scientific research showing higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide help plants grow. Pawa tried to cast that as a negative, asking Christy if he were aware this would also help weeds grow.

"Alarmism focuses on poison ivy," Christy replied. "I like to focus on the fact that food production has increased 16 percent solely because of the extra CO2 we've put back in the atmosphere."

-- James M. Taylor

James M. Taylor, J.D.

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News, a national monthly... (read full bio)