Where did all the warming go?

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It’s the science scandal of the year. A thousand e-mails and 2,000 other documents were swiped from the server of Britain’s Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University and posted on the Web. Many were truly embarrassing to the writers, while others have been quoted out of context and falsely used as “proof” global warming is “a hoax.”

But in one e-mail a top “warmist” researcher does admit it’s a “travesty” that “we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment.” Further, “any consideration of geoengineering [is] quite hopeless as we will never be able to tell if it is successful or not!”

“Geoengineering” - as in the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill that passed the House and that the conservative Heritage Foundation estimates will lop $9.4 trillion off the economy? Geoengineering such as that to which President Obama hopes to commit us to at this week’s U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen? Yes, that kind of “geoengineering.”

And as it happens, the writer of that October 2009 e-mail - Kevin Trenberth, a lead author of the warmist bible, the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - report told Congress two years ago evidence for man-made warming is “unequivocal.” He claimed “the planet is running a ‘fever’ and the prognosis is that it is apt to get much worse.”

But Mr. Trenberth’s “lack of warming at the moment” has been going on at least a decade. “There has been no [surface-measured] warming since 1997 and no statistically significant warming since 1995,” observes Massachusetts Institute of Technology meteorologist Richard Lindzen. “According to satellite data, global warming stopped about 10 years ago and there’s no way to know whether it’s happening now,” says former NASA Senior Scientist for Climate Studies Roy Spencer.

Don’t tell that to Al Gore. “Humanity is sitting on a ticking time bomb,” he warned a few years back. In a typically understated claim, he warned “we have just 10 years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tailspin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced.” He forgot the frogs, the locusts and the boils, but point made.

And yet during the past decade we’ve belched so-called “greenhouse gases” into the atmosphere at ever greater rates, from 6.51 billion metric tons in 1996 to 8.23 billion tons in 2006 - a 26 percent increase. Atmospheric concentrations have also reached the highest levels ever observed.

Still, no increase in warming. In fact, according to a study in Nature magazine last year, Mr. Trenberth’s “moment” may last another decade and we might even see some cooling.

Now add in tremendous historical fluctuations such as the little ice age (about 1,250 to 1,850) and the medieval warming period (about 800 to 1,250) that let slip the Vikings of war, when fossil-fuel usage was virtually nil. Suddenly the simple equation of more greenhouse gases equals more warming doesn’t seem so simple.

“In the IPCC view, climate change is mostly under the control of humans,” says Mr. Spencer. “I believe [temperature trends] are essentially natural. Trenberth saying we don’t understand why there hasn’t been warming lately indeed shows mankind’s role has been overstated.”

Mr. Spencer is no hermit in this belief. Recently a major study in the American Geophysical Union’s official publication, the Journal of Geophysical Research, supported earlier research in concluding that least 80 percent and perhaps far more of the observed warming over the past half-century is natural. Factors well beyond our control, such as cloud cover, Mr. Spencer says, matter far more than we do.

None of which means mankind plays no role in climate. “We know there is a greenhouse effect and adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere like carbon dioxide should cause more warming,” Mr. Spencer adds. “We just don’t have a clue how much.” But, he adds, “2 or 3 times an extremely small number is still an extremely small number.”

Bottom line: While Waxman-Markey and Mr. Obama’s Copenhagen initiative would address global warming through costly carbon dioxide emissions reductions, we get no return on such an investment. Waxman-Markey would have so little effect on global climate that it’s nothing more than a down payment as even the most zealous global warming crusaders concede.

Just maybe, before we take out that mortgage with our struggling economy as collateral, we ought to see how the science develops. For those who say we can’t afford to wait, the answer is we can’t afford not to.

Michael Fumento is director of the nonprofit Independent Journalism Institute, where he specializes in science and health issues.

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