- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 12, 2005

Marion Baillot’s article on Michael Crichton’s excellent new book, “State of Fear,” amusingly juxtaposes opponents in the debate on human-induced global warming (March 1, Page A2). Noted astrophysicist S. Fred Singer says he does not think it is much of a problem. Equally noted global warming advocates express outrage Mr. Crichton exposes great gaps in the current theory and demonstrates the science is not compelling. Ignoring Mr. Singer and thousands of other scientists who express contrary views, the advocates simply proclaim a nonexistent “consensus of scientists.”

Underlining this controversy is the vexing problem that appears whenever a scientific issue is used to justify far-reaching political action: How does the public separate scientific knowledge from sophisticated speculation? A similar controversy in the 1970s illustrates this difficulty.

In 1972, the Club of Rome issued an extremely influential report “The Limits to Growth” that projected the world would run out of oil and natural gas by the end of the 20th century. Advocates demanded immediate government action to control use of these fuels. The federal government passed a number of laws and regulations including those forcing electric utilities and major industries to shift from oil or natural gas as boiler fuel to coal, which produces more carbon dioxide and more pollutants. The projections of exhausted resources proved false.

Some 20 years later, reports from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change started projecting that in the 21st century humans will use too much oil, natural gas and other fossil fuels and cause drastic climate change.

The too-little-fuel and the too-much-fuel groups both start from a very defensible position. For the former, wanton use of oil and natural gas will eventually deplete these resources. For the latter, burning fossil fuels increases carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and, if all other conditions remain the same, this will enhance the greenhouse effect. The scientific issues include when, how much and if other conditions will remain the same. At this point the “consensus of scientists” ends and the “consensus of advocates” begins.

Both advocacy groups use similar logic and methods:

(1) They begin with unscientifically tested assumptions.

(2) They substantiate their claims with empirically unverified sophisticated computer models. Thus, the results of the models are speculation, not scientific knowledge.

(3) They buttress their claims with unreplicated studies ignoring the centuries old scientific principle that studies must be replicated a number of times before they can be accepted.

(4) They use inferior or inappropriate measurements to validate their claims.

(5) And they demand drastic international regulations on use of certain energy sources.

The use of untested assumptions and models is common, and no doubt the scientists involved understand the difference between speculation and knowledge. However, as evidenced by the popular 1970s belief that the world is running out of oil and natural gas, much of the public does not grasp this crucial difference. The difference should be emphasized rather than glossed over in public debate.

Because the greenhouse effect occurs in the atmosphere, measuring changes in atmospheric temperatures will measure changes in the greenhouse effect from whatever source. Yet, global warming advocates routinely use surface temperature measurements. These measurements may be influenced by changing land use, urbanization, vegetation growth, changing locations of thermometers, and a host of other local changes.

These measurements are local, not global, contain great inconsistencies, and do not directly measure changes in the greenhouse effect. The inconsistencies are recognized by a NASA Web site that reports the average global surface air temperature “may easily be anywhere between 56 and 58 F and regionally, let alone locally, the situation is even worse.” (www.giss.nasa.gov/data/update/gistemp/abs_temp.html)

Long-established scientific principles require that, to reduce the likelihood of error and bias, measurements be direct, rigorous and independently verified.

Since 1979, weather satellites have directly measured the temperatures of the atmosphere encompassing more than 95 percent of the Earth’s surface.

These measurements are the most rigorous, comprehensive set of global temperatures ever reported and are independently verified by two sets of weather balloon measurements. These are the only measurements that meet scientific standards. And they all show little or no global warming.

Those who ignore satellite and balloon measurements and promote only surface measurements as the basis of their claims also ignore principles of sound science and have stepped from modern empirical science into political science.


Fairfax, Va.

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