February 22

M.D. HARMON: Statistics about global warming not in dispute, just interpretation


George Will had the definitive comment about Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent global warming diatribe in Indonesia.

Kerry claimed that “loud interest groups” and “a tiny minority of shoddy scientists” who challenge official statements on climate change are wrong.

He added that “97 percent of climate scientists have confirmed that climate change is happening and that human activity is responsible.” He said “the science is absolutely certain” and that warming was perhaps the world’s most dangerous “weapon of mass destruction.”

But Will, a panelist on Fox News’ Sunday morning talk show, said that when someone claims “The debate is over,” he actually means “the debate is raging hot and heavy,” and that “he’s on the losing side.”

How do we know that? By looking both here and abroad.

First, Kerry’s comparison of carbon dioxide, a gas vital to life on Earth, to nuclear weapons is a sign of desperation, as advocates’ arguments have failed to persuade the U.S. public that warming is a serious danger.

In a Pew Research poll conducted in mid-January, “Dealing with global warming” came in 19th out of 20 issues, with only 29 percent of respondents saying it was an important concern.

Of course, that has nothing to say about its objective importance, but it does indicate why the administration is increasingly turning away from the people’s representatives in Congress and resorting to unilateral bureaucratic rule-making to implement its taxpayer-burdening regulations.

They include the “war on coal,” an effort to drive coal-burning power plants out of business by mandating emissions controls that are not even commercially available.

But as President Barack Obama gears up his famous “I’ve got the pen and I’ve got the paper” response to changes he can’t persuade voters to accept, other countries — exactly as Will implied — are moving rapidly in the opposite direction.

Regarding the “shoddiness” of the skeptics’ analyses, Kerry’s “97 percent of scientists agree” claim is shoddy all by itself.

The original report claiming that figure ignored thousands of pieces of relevant research, and of the studies it did count, it included in its favor all those in which the authors attributed any causality to human action, whether it was found to be substantial or minuscule.

Consider, too, that both sides rely on essentially the same set of temperature readings. It isn’t the data that are in dispute, but their interpretation.

When the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claimed “95 percent confidence” in its warming predictions, it was asserting that level of assurance about its predictive computer modeling programs, not any actual results.

However, its former models did not predict current conditions at all. They had temperatures steadily rising with carbon dioxide emissions, adding in external “forcing” estimates to boost their estimated effects on climate.

But as is well known, “global temperatures,” as they are currently measured, leveled off more than 15 years ago and haven’t risen since.

Still, isn’t warming at record levels? The right answer is, “Yes and no.”

It was considerably warmer in the historic past, both in the Roman era and in the Middle Ages, times when carbon dioxide levels were much lower than today. Subsequent cooling lasted for centuries, but ended in the 1800s, when a mild warming trend began.

As S. Fred Singer, a prominent skeptic who is also a highly credentialed atmospheric and space physicist, noted last week on the American Thinker blog, this happened “even though greenhouse forcing from carbon dioxide has been steadily increasing. At the same time, climate activists claim that the past decade is the warmest since thermometer records were started.”

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