Albion Monitor /Commentary

Global Warming Gloomsters

by Alexander Cockburn

The trouble with global-warming hysteria is that it discredits decent policies
LONDON -- Here on the eastern shores of the Atlantic, the British papers are full of grim prophecies out of the big global-warming summit in Kyoto, Japan: up 3 degrees Celsius by 2100 and by that time, too, seas rising, crops failing and malaria raging through scorched Siberia and the fetid swamps of the upper Midwest.

Don't take it too seriously. These international jamborees -- the last big one was the U.N. enviro conference in Rio in '92 -- create a greenhouse effect all their own.

The normal powers of human inattention and frivolity usually allow alarmist effusions of hot air about population explosions and adverse weather patterns to rise harmlessly into the upper atmosphere. But as each environmental summit approaches, the hot air generated by several thousand experts all talking at the same time generates powerful thermal currents that assist in the formation of a toxic canopy, inhibiting the normal updraft of inanity.

Sometimes, it takes as long as three or four years for normal conditions to resume. And owing to the frequency of the conferences, there are worrisome signs that the canopy is becoming increasingly stagnant. There have been calls for a return to 1980 levels of inanity emissions, but it is doubtful that there can ever be any meaningful regulation of the production of intellectual hot air. The Environmental Defense Fund would no doubt propose a system of "hot air credits," but such a scheme would surely be unworkable since all parties have already exceeded any likely quota.

Remember that weather modeling is still a pathetically uncertain art. Take this year's El Nino warming of Pacific waters. Up until 1997, the most successful, as well as longest-running, model of ocean phenomena such as El Nino was the one operated at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y. But as Science News reported this October, this particular model last year forecast a cold Pacific in 1997.

Listen to the gloomsters, and you hear pell-mell verbal alarums about "unprecedented warmings" in this century, with the inference or outright claim that this is due to human agency in the creation of carbon emissions. The U.N. predictors -- among the more dire of the whole forecasting bunch -- say global temperatures have risen 1 degree Celsius in this century thus far and may rise by another 1.5 degrees to 3 degrees by the end of the next century. The gloomsters usually pick the upper number and ignore the possibility, espoused by many, that much of the recent warming can be attributed to solar flaring rather than carbon dioxide and that if these flares subside throughout the next few decades, the Earth will get colder, even if carbon-dioxide emissions increase.

The Earth has been warmer. When the Vikings sailed off to look for Greenland about 1,000 years ago, they weren't wearing fleece. True, they were tough hombres -- but not that tough. In fact, it was warm enough for Greenland to be green, which is why they gave it the name they did. Just the other day, I ran across a 17th century description of Youghal, on the south coast of Ireland, the town where I grew up, where the author noted that oranges were grown in Dungourney, a hamlet up the road. Chronologies of climate change show astoundingly rapid shifts at various points in the human journey. If the Gulf Stream suddenly bathed the British Isles in its warmth -- a caesura that has occurred before -- all talk of global warming would stop abruptly.

The gloomsters draw lurid scenarios of oceans rising, deserts expanding and agriculture failing beneath the torrid sun. The sea has been rising at the rate of about 1.8 millimeters a year for this century, and there's not much evidence this will change. In fact, it might slow up, since a warmer Earth portends more snow on the Antarctic ice sheet, given that less sea ice means more evaporation, hence more snow. Food production will go up because of longer growing seasons at the productive latitudes.

The biggest gloomsters are the no-growth enviros, some of them working in cahoots with the nuclear power industry, which sees its last best hope in a theory of global warming caused by the use of fossil fuels. The no-growth enviros throw in a lot of nonsense about Third World overbreeding contributing to speeded-up consumption of such fuels, plus increased production of methane gas from rice paddies and bovines. Roll all this up into one human bundle of balderdash, and you get ... Al Gore.

The trouble with global-warming hysteria is that it discredits decent policies. It's wrong to destroy forests, whether tropical or temperate. But a rationale for this position that uses faulty arguments about carbon emissions just plays into the hands of the timber industry, which can then dismiss all protest as based on junk science.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor December 22, 1997 (

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