A little warming, a lot of hysteria

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Al Gore has been looking for work for five years now, and he’s still steamed about the warm weather. Somebody has even made a movie about it, though it won’t necessarily be opening soon at a theater anywhere near you.

The movie is an “indie,” short for movies made independently of one of the big studios. Indies usually show up on cable at 3 in the morning. The movie about Al is called “An Inconvenient Truth,” and The Washington Post describes it as “a movie about global warming. Starring Al Gore. Doing a slide show. About ‘soil evaporation.’” Which gives you an idea.

Al has been a true believer since before anyone else believed. Al came to lunch with us at The Washington Times years ago, even before Bill Clinton picked him as a running mate, to tell us that even if some of his facts were cooked, his cause was so noble that we ought to help him peddle the cooked stuff, fibs, stretchers, tall tales and all. (We passed, of course.)

The debate was supposed to be over by now, but it’s not. Nearly everyone agrees that some of the planet’s colder neighborhoods are a little warmer than they used to be, and Al thinks the devil made us do it. Al and proponents of global warming argue that whatever bad happens, happens because of the greed of man, and mostly Americans at that. Icebergs floating too far south? Man did it. Torrential rains in Monument Valley? Blame it on global warming. A drought in Tacoma-Seattle? Fog in Phoenix? Man set fire to the globe. Keep it scary, and keep it coming.

Al has been going coast to coast (always in coach class, with his lunch in a paper sack) collecting wild applause from other true believers, and just when he imagines he can take a day off from his Oldest Established Permanent Floating Clap Game, a reputable skeptic comes along with actual inconvenient truths.

“Since the early 1990s,” writes Prof. Robert Carter, a professor of geology at Cook University in Australia, “the columns of many leading newspapers and magazines, worldwide, have carried an increasing stream of alarmist letters and articles on hypothetical, human-caused climate change. Each alarmist article is larded with words such as ‘if,’ ‘might,’ ‘could,’ ‘probably,’ ‘perhaps,’ ‘expected,’ ‘projected’ or ‘modeled’ — and many involve such deep dreaming, or ignorance of scientific facts and principles, that they are akin to nonsense.”

The professor, writing in the London Daily Telegraph, does not dispute the evidence that we’re in an era of rising temperatures. Who does? But he suggests that man exhibits considerable hubris — insolence, even — if he imagines that he’s responsible. Consider the official temperature records, kept at the University of East Anglia in England: Between 1998 and 2005, global average temperatures actually went down.

This seven-year period, he observes, nevertheless coincides with a period in which man was pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as if there were no tomorrow, which is, of course, exactly what Al and his fellow hysterics keep telling us. Of course, this is only a tiny blip of time. But Al and his pals argue triumphantly that the 28 years between 1970 and 1998, another tiny blip, were decades of deadly manmade warming. Then what should we make of the warming trend between 1918 and 1940, well before the years of greatest carbon dioxide making? How to explain the period between 1940 and 1965, years of pell-mell worldwide industrialization, when the earth recorded not warming, but cooling, temperatures?

Not so long ago, the media fad was all about the coming ice age. Newsweek reported in 1975 that the earth was cooling and the effects on food production would be catastrophic. Farmers in Northern Europe could expect the growing season to shrink by two weeks by the end of the century. That didn’t happen.

Well, nobody’s perfect. But our scientists were aware of their modest gifts then. “Our knowledge of the mechanisms of climactic change is at least as fragmentary as our data,” the National Academy of Sciences concluded in 1975. “Not only are the basic scientific questions largely unanswered, but in many cases we do not yet know enough to pose the key questions.” They should ask Al to explain this. He could take them to the movies.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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