Monday, April 17, 2006

The same week California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sought to reposition himself on global warming with a proposal for new greenhouse-gas cuts, a funny thing happened: A paleoclimatologist said that global warming actually stopped in 1998.

“For many years now, human-caused climate change has been viewed as a large and urgent problem,” wrote Bob Carter of James Cook University in Australia in the Daily Telegraph. “In truth, however, the biggest part of the problem is neither environmental nor scientific, but a self-created political fiasco. Consider the simple fact, drawn from the official temperature records of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, that for the years 1998-2005 global average temperature did not increase.”

In fact, according to Mr. Carter, there appears to have been a negligible decrease in temperature over that period. Which is not to say that he disputes the notion that warming happened in the late 20th century. Rather, Mr. Carter is pointing to a recent fluctuation in the climate data which suggests that so-called “anthropogenic” warming could not be a very significant factor — not if gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles and surging Chinese growth could fail to tip the scales toward warming. Climate seems to vary according to a number of factors, he believes, and the man-made part was probably negligible the last few years. Mr. Carter unloaded on — among people and institutions — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, calling it a “gravy train” to benefit scientists who hew to preferred positions on global warming.

We bring up Mr. Carter’s entry into this debate up not to endorse the scientific judgment — we leave that to the scientists, many or even most of whom would dispute Mr. Carter’s view — but instead to observe that the political discourse often pretends that such voices do not exist.

Mr. Schwarzenegger is certainly part of the problem in that regard. “The debate is over,” he wrote last week. “We know the science. We see the threat posed by changes in our climate. And we know the time for action is now.” This could just as easily be said by Al Gore, the global warming bloviator-in-chief in headlines of late.

Without question there has been a serious politicization of the global-warming debate. With politicians calling global warming a worse problem than terrorism and claiming that only Antarctica will be inhabitable in a hundred years — these are two of the real examples that Mr. Carter raises to prove the point — it’s hardly surprising to hear unpopular politicians stumping in hostile territory under a global-warming banner.

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