UNDERWAY IN Buenos Aires is a giant international conference on global warming, a follow-up to last December's United Nations-sponsored confab in Kyoto, Japan. Delegates to the summit aim to put teeth into the treaty that came out of Kyoto, which calls for the world's leading countries to reduce sharply their use of energy over the next decade and a half. If implemented, the treaty would force the most productive societies on earth — the ones that have led the way in making human life comfortable, safe, and prosperous — to slow their economic growth and degrade their standard of living.
The organizers of the Buenos Aires conference take it for granted, of course, that global warming is real. The "consensus" among scientists, it is said, is that the planet's temperature is rising, the cause of the rise is the use of fossil fuels, and disastrous climate changes are looming unless drastic changes are made. The media likewise tend to take it as a given that the experts are in accord on global warming. So do many politicians. "The evidence of global warming keeps piling up," says Vice President Al Gore, who has made the issue a personal crusade, "month after month, week after week."
So if the scientists are all in agreement, who said this?
We urge the United States government to reject the global warming agreement that was written in Kyoto. . . . The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.
There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing (or will in the foreseeable future cause) catastrophic heating of the earth's atmosphere and disruption of the earth's climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the earth.
Is that the carping of an oil-industry flack? The ignorant mutterings of fringe antienvironmentalists?
No. It is a petition signed by nearly 17,000 US scientists, half of whom are trained in the fields of physics, geophysics, climate science, meteorology, oceanography, chemistry, biology, or biochemistry. The statement was circulated by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine along with an eight-page abstract of the latest research on climate change. The abstract — written for scientists but comprehensible by laymen — concludes that there is no basis for believing (1) that atmospheric CO2 is causing a dangerous climb in global temperatures, (2) that greater concentrations of CO2 would be harmful, or (3) that human activity leads to global warming in the first place.
In the 1970s, climate alarmists were certain that the earth was getting colder.
The cover letter accompanying the petition and abstract was penned by Frederick Seitz, a past president of the National Academy of Sciences. (All these documents are available online at www.oism.org/pproject.) The scientific "consensus" on global warming, it turns out, does not exist.
The Oregon Institute petition is no anomaly.
More than 100 climate scientists have endorsed the Leipzig Declaration, which describes the Kyoto treaty as "dangerously simplistic, quite ineffective, and economically destructive." The endorsers include prominent scholars, among them David Aubrey of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute; Larry Brace of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center; meteorologist Austin Hogan, who co-edits the journal Atmospheric Research; Richard Lindzen, the Sloane Professor of Meteorology at MIT; and Patrick Michaels, a University of Virginia professor and past president of the American Association of State Climatologists.
"The dire predictions of a future warming have not been validated by the historic climate record," the Leipzig Declaration says bluntly. "In fact, most climate specialists now agree that actual observations from both weather satellites and balloon-borne radiosondes show no current warming whatsoever — in direct contradiction to computer model results." The declaration, plus a wealth of information on every aspect of the global warming controversy, is posted at the Web site of the Science & Environmental Policy Project, www.sepp.org.
What is going on in Buenos Aires is a costly exercise in futility. The United States has not signed the Kyoto treaty; even if President Clinton does sign it, there is no chance the Senate will ratify it. And without US participation, any plan to curtail CO2 emissions is doomed — as it ought to be.
Nevertheless, it is important to explode the myth that most scientists are worried about global warming. Politicians shouldn't be permitted to hijack science in their pursuit of power. Environmentalists and journalists with an antibusiness itch to scratch should be cross-examined whenever they claim there is only one side to an issue of public policy.
We've been down this "consensus" road before. Remember when the Chicken Littles were warning that the earth was getting colder? "The evidence in support of predictions [of global cooling] has now begun to accumulate so massively," Newsweek claimed in 1975, "that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it." Except that there was no global cooling. The alarmists were wrong then. Expect them to be wrong now.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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