- - Wednesday, May 15, 2019


“Everybody complains about the weather,” observed Mark Twain, “but no one does anything about it.” That may have been true in his happier day, but not now, when we think man can change anything.

Climate change, which is weather over a lengthy period of time, is now on the world’s to-do list. What is done about it is of crucial importance because the price of altering the long-term weather of the entire planet could be higher than the stratosphere. Until uncertainties are resolved that make the contemporary study of climate more science than art, America should take a rain check on a revolution driven by neither art nor science, but fear.

In recognition of scientific uncertainty, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is trying to reduce inaccuracies in the methods participating nations use in calculating greenhouse gas emissions. The organization’s task force on greenhouse gas inventories this week concluded its 49th annual meeting in Kyoto, Japan, intended to update methods put in place in 2006 for tracking emissions. Such inventories include energy, industrial processes and product use, agriculture and forestry, and waste.

Accurately estimating emissions across a nation is fraught with difficulty; errors in estimates multiplied across the globe could account for squirrelly climate-change conclusions. Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are known to trap heat and are viewed by climate scientists to be primary sources of global warming. Correlation between rising concentrations of greenhouse gases and higher temperatures, however, is less than straightforward, leading to a world of suspicion. Predictions of climate doom, due to failure to dial back human industrial activity, are likely overblown.

The conclusions of a new study, published by the scientific journal Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology, contribute fresh doubt to the idea that atmospheric carbon dioxide and global temperatures rise and fall in unison. The study found the average temperature of tropical Atlantic Ocean waters to be 15.5 degrees Celsius — 7.5 degrees Celsius colder than it was during the Holocene Epoch of 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. Carbon-dioxide concentrations trapped in ice from that era have been measured at around 220 parts per million. On May 3, Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory announced concentrations had reached 413.5 parts per million.

Forecasting Earth’s climate patterns is apparently more complicated than simply measuring greenhouse gas levels. Without grasping all variables affecting climate, efforts to predict temperature trends are faulty, and hence unreliable. The U.N. panel concedes such shortcomings in its 2014 summary report, while noting that 111 of 114 computer model-generated simulations show a global mean surface temperature trend higher than observed from 1998 to 2012, when warming pattern underwent an unexpected hiatus.

The U.N. climate panel’s attempts to refine the precision of its methods for estimating nations’ greenhouse gases are expected to result in more reliable temperature estimates. A draft report approved in Kyoto warns that its authors may recommend modifications to methods of estimating greenhouse gases where “no refinement” is currently called for and, conversely, they could conclude that “no refinement” should be made in methods in which changes are expected. Flexibility of that order is reminiscent of another popular aphorism: “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.”

In Washington, global-warming prophets don’t want to wait for a clear picture of the world’s temperature patterns before pushing extravagant government programs that are supposed to limit greenhouse gases and slow the predicted rise in global temperatures. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez warns that “like, the world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change.” She insists now that her predicting doom in 12 years was only a joke, and anyone who took that figure seriously has the wit of a sea sponge. But her celebrated $93 trillion Green New Deal, which would require a nationwide conversion to zero-emission energy sources, was not meant as a joke.

Americans know better than to bet the farm on twisting weather vanes and befuddled politicians. It’s hardly a surprise that climate change ranks no higher than ninth place on a Gallup list of important problems facing the country.

The U.N.’s efforts to refine estimates of greenhouse gases are welcome, but until climatologists have a full understanding of the natural forces shaping the planet’s climate, extravagant blueprints for radical change should remain on the drawing board.

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