Sunday, April 02, 2006

Global Warming or Hot Rhetoric?

George Will has an excellent column in today's Washington Post regarding the group think journalism warning everyone to be "very worried" regarding global warming. The author of The Monroe Doctrine has never been quick to take sides on global warming -- there are both arguments that seem to express reasonable causes for concern, and there are clear examples of alarmist over readings of the scientific evidence. This author is also old enough to remember warnings in science magazines in the 1970's warning about a looming ice age, warnings that were buttressed by the three cold winters in 1977-'79. Mr. Will writes:

While worrying about Montana's receding glaciers, Schweitzer, who is 50, should also worry about the fact that when he was 20 he was told to be worried, very worried, about global cooling. Science magazine (Dec. 10, 1976) warned of "extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation." Science Digest (February 1973) reported that "the world's climatologists are agreed" that we must "prepare for the next ice age." The Christian Science Monitor ("Warning: Earth's Climate is Changing Faster Than Even Experts Expect," Aug. 27, 1974) reported that glaciers "have begun to advance," "growing seasons in England and Scandinavia are getting shorter" and "the North Atlantic is cooling down about as fast as an ocean can cool." Newsweek agreed ("The Cooling World," April 28, 1975) that meteorologists "are almost unanimous" that catastrophic famines might result from the global cooling that the New York Times (Sept. 14, 1975) said "may mark the return to another ice age." The Times (May 21, 1975) also said "a major cooling of the climate is widely considered inevitable" now that it is "well established" that the Northern Hemisphere's climate "has been getting cooler since about 1950."

There are many areas of both the physical and the social sciences that defy analysis due to the overwhelming numbers of variables involved. Given that models cannot be created that provide for all of these variables, the models inevitably reflect the biases of their creators, meaning that the results are frequently more or less, consciously or unconsciously, pre-ordained. Even worse, frequently studies that don't produce the expected results will be discarded as flawed. All of this means that there is little conception or consensus as to whether current warming is due to geological and cosmological factors, or due to human ones. For that matter, some argue that apparent global warming really is a matter of more sophisticated devices for measurement, placed more frequently in urban "hot spots."

In terms of politics, American politicians lack the foresight to act on Social Security, about which it is certain there will be a crisis within 30 years. Why should it be expected that they will act on global warming, about which there may or may not be a crisis more than a century from now?


Anonymous said...

Of course, if George Will was an honest man, he would have noted that his partial quote from the Science article ("Variations in the Earth's Orbit: Pacemaker of the Ice Ages" - Science Vol. 194, Dec. 10, 1976) is very explicit that 1) the scientists were looking at earth orbital patterns, 2) that their conclusions were based entirely on NATURAL components of climate change, NOT the "anthropogenic effects as those due to the burning of fossil fuels," and 3) that "the results indicate that the long-term trend over the next 20,000 years is toward extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation and cooler climate."

In other words, NO scientists were forecasting an imminent iceage.

While it is true that a number of JOURNALISTS were making such clames, it is not true that scientists were.

Thus, Will's accusation that journalists are conducting a "misinformation campaign" is accurate in so much that he is talking about himself.

HJ said...

I think that Mr. Will's primary point was that there is a certain faddishness about these things, both in the journalistic and scientific communities, that makes it difficult to take these claims at face value. On that, I think he is absolutely correct.