Environmental Myth Report

by | Feb 6, 1999

El Nino and global warming: What connection?It’s been a hot year, thanks to El Nino. (According to weather satellite data, the first half of 1998 ranked well above the average of the last two decades; 1999 though is likely to be quite cold.) Much to the frustration of environmental activists, however, responsible climate scientists have […]

El Nino and global warming: What connection?
It’s been a hot year, thanks to El Nino. (According to weather satellite data, the first half of 1998 ranked well above the average of the last two decades; 1999 though is likely to be quite cold.) Much to the frustration of environmental activists, however, responsible climate scientists have steadfastly refused to blame the unusually strong El Nino on manmade greenhouse gases. They have also denied any relationship between global warming and hurricanes, putting the lie to politicians who were quick to blame Hurricane Mitch and other weather disasters on the greenhouse effect.

Lots of environmental scares exist without any scientific foundation, but catastrophic global warming must take the cake when it comes to hype. The late Aaron Wildavsky referred to it as the “mother of all environmental scares.” It certainly is the most expensive — potentially. If the Kyoto Protocol for cutting CO2 emissions and energy use were ever ratified by the U.S. Senate and enforced by the United Nations, there go jobs and prosperity — all because of the feverish imagination of environmental activists and some computer printouts that don’t relate to what’s really happening in the atmosphere.

The climate-aerosol debacle: The U.N. science advisory group, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has a big credibility problem. Its 1996 report, the basis for Kyoto, had to admit that the rapid warming predicted by computer models was not occurring. So they hit on an explanation to account for the discrepancy: Sulfate aerosols, particles created from the burning of coal and other sulfur-containing substances, were supposed to reflect incident sunlight and create an offsetting cooling — forcing an agreement with the observations that show no warming trend. Unfortunately for the IPCC, the details don’t match. The Southern Hemisphere, containing fewer aerosols, should be warming more rapidly-but it isn’t.

The final blow has just been dealt to the IPCC house-of-cards by NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, an IPCC stalwart (who revived the global warming scare a decade ago when he blamed the 1988 U.S. drought on the greenhouse effect.) Now, he’s back, writing in the Proceedings of the august National Academy of Sciences: “The forcings that drive long-term climate change [aerosols, clouds, land-use patterns] are not known with an accuracy sufficient to define future climate change.” Why then should one trust the predictions of climate models?

The carbon dioxide-warming connection: cause and effect?
It has become an article of faith that CO2 increases are the cause of the warmings marking the end of the ice ages observed in the climate record in the past million years. Now comes news from precise Antarctic ice-core data that while warmings and CO2 increases are indeed correlated, the CO2 increases lag the warmings by about 1,000 years. So much for the cause-effect relationship so dear to the hearts of global-warming promoters.

Sea level Rise from global warming?
Don’t believe it: First of all, sea level has been rising at average rate of about 7 inches per century for several centuries, and nobody quite knows why. But it is certainly not due to climate changes or any human influences.

The climate did warm sharply between 1900 and 1940, recovering from the previous cold centuries of the “Little Ice Age”; can we trace the effect of this warming on sea level? Many glaciers are still melting as a result of the higher temperatures compared to 100 years ago. Also, ocean water expanded, as most substances do when their temperature is raised. But the sea-level data taken during this period suggest that both of these effects were overcome by an increased evaporation from the ocean surface, followed by more rain — which turned to ice over the polar regions and increased ice accumulation there. The net result: a transfer of water from the ocean to the polar ice caps, and a slowing down of the ongoing sea level rise.

There is a lesson to be learned here. Should the climate warm again for any reason — it is likely to further depress sea-level rise.

The bugs are coming: Really?
Activists allege that climate warming promotes the spread of mosquitoes carrying frightful tropical diseases; but rapid and widespread air travel is a likely dominating factor. Now they’ve been trumped by Professor Peter McEwen of the University of Wales who predicts an invasion of cockroaches and other pasties that will inundate Great Britain, “steal our food and suck our blood.”

At the Kyoto conference (December 1997) everything bad was blamed on global warming — even though it is not happening. The prize goes to the Japan Environmental Times (“All the Earth News Without Fear or Favor”) report that deadly Australian “red-back” spiders were found by a factory worker in Osaka (which boasts an international airport). “Scientists attribute the first discovery of the species in Japan to the warmer climate.” (Comment: Maybe the little beasts swim faster when the ocean is warmer. It’s a thought.)

Health effects from pollutants: The good news
Some good news for a change: Judge Samuel C. Poynter of the U.S. District Court in Alabama appointed a panel of independent scientists to investigate and report on the health effects of breast implants; they found none worth mentioning. In North Carolina, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Osteen threw out the EPA claim “secondhand” cigarette smoke causes lung cancer. Smoke may be irritating and obnoxious, but that’s not quite the same as evidence for lung cancer: the correlation is “not statistically significant.” Meanwhile, the American Council on Science and Health has published Facts vs. Fears, a review of the greatest unfounded health scares of recent times they range from the 1959 “Cranberry Scare” to DDT, Love Canal, asbestos in schools, and cellular phones causing brain tumors.

Other good news: There finally may be a detection technique to measure directly the damage to DNA, the genetic material in human cells, from minute quantities of chemicals or radiation. The first experiments, published in Science in 1998, indicate the existence of a “threshold,” below which any damage is repaired by the cell’s own repair mechanism. Too bad that this result didn’t appear earlier; a lot of laboratory rats had to die after being exposed to megadoses of suspected carcinogens.

The ozone layer revisited: Where are the casualties?
And some more good news — sort of: The 1987 Montreal Protocol that led to the ban on chlorofluorocarbons (“Freons”) was based on studies that predicted dire health consequences (to the tune of $32 trillion(!)), according to the EPA — from even a 5 percent depletion in the stratospheric ozone layer. Well, the ozone layer has now thinned by about that amount, but where are the feared consequences — the millions of skin cancers, cataracts and impaired immune systems leading to uncontrollable epidemics? Could it be that the: Environmental Protection Agency exaggerated just a tiny little bit in order to promote the CFC ban? Far be it for me to suggest that EPA would engage in such a dastardly scheme or even intimate that AIDS is spread by ozone depletion.

There’s so much more to tell; but there is no space left. Better explore the web at www.sepp.org.

S. Fred Singer is the founder and president of the Science & Environmental Policy Project.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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