Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The good news is that we were supposed to all be dead by now, done in by SARS, AIDS or bird flu. The bad news is, now we can be cooked medium-rare by global warming.

Or not. The jury on global warming is still out — the jurors are snowbound — and this seriously frustrates the folks who imagined they had the jury well rigged. (Al Gore comes to mind.)

Global warming has become the catechism of a new-age religion, with Mr. Gore as its topmost prelate, entitled to cassock, miter, incense and hot holy water. Anyone who dissents risks a session on the rack, as we have lately seen in calls for punishing “deniers.” President Chirac of France, eager to poke a finger in the eye of an American, even proposes a Europewide “carbon tax” on anything imported into Europe from nations that have not signed the Kyoto treaty, i.e., the United States.

So intense has the zealotry become, in fact, that a holy man from a long-established rival faith issued a warning over the weekend from Australia, where he observed that a NASA satellite reckons that the bottom half of the globe is not warming at all. Thickening ice caps at the South Pole suggests it might even be cooling.

“We have been subjected to a lot of nonsense about climate disasters as some zealots have been painting extreme scenarios to frighten us,” says Cardinal George Pell, the archbishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Sydney. “They claim ocean levels are about to rise spectacularly, that there could be the occasional tsunami as high as an eight-story building, the Amazon basin could be destroyed as the ice cap in the Arctic melts.

“An overseas magazine called for Nuremberg-style trials for global-warming skeptics while an [American] television correspondent compared skeptics to ‘Holocaust deniers.’ … What we are seeing from the doomsayers is an induced dose of mild hysteria, semi-religious if you like, but dangerously close to superstition.”

The cardinal dispenses with dogma. “I am deeply skeptical about man-made catastrophic global warming,” he says, “but still open to further evidence. I would be surprised if industrial pollution and carbon emissions had no ill effect at all. But enough is enough.”

Enough may be enough for a cardinal, but he can count on more of the guff and goo that the Rt. Rev. Mr. Gore and his friends cook up in enormous batches. They want to “end the debate” because they’re afraid of engaging in argument. Some politicians who know better have resisted the convulsive frenzy until now, but frightened by the relentless ferocity of the hysterics, have been finally beaten into submission.

The litany of catastrophe to come in the catechism of the High Church of Global Warming — hurricanes, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, blizzards, floods and more ticks, chiggers and other bad bugs — became so fevered that soon everyone was bored. Hence the campaign to make criminals of dissenters. A few hangings should compel compliance with dogma.

The Earth’s climate is a study in cycles. No one doubts findings that global temperatures have risen a fraction over the past two or three decades. Weather, after all, is a story of averages, and averages can mislead. A man with one foot in a bucket of ice and the other in the fire is, on average, warm. The British climate-research unit at the University of East Anglia found that average global temperatures, rising over a quarter of a century, did not increase at all between 1998 and 2005. In 1976, climatologist Lowell Ponte wrote: “It is a cold fact that global cooling presents humankind with the most important social, political and adaptive challenge we have had to deal with for 10,000 years. Your stake in the decisions we make concerning it is of ultimate importance, the survival of ourselves, our children, our species.”

Some of the “solutions” to global warming are obviously good things to do. There are several good reasons to find alternatives to oil from the Middle East. We should never have yielded to the hysteria of a generation ago that prevented the development of nuclear power, for example. But wrecking the American economy to satisfy seasonal fashions is foolish, silly and worse.

And watch out for mad cows.

Pruden on Politics runs Tuesdays and Fridays.

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