Friday, February 12, 2010

Global-warming skeptics were hit with numerous setbacks over the past few years - from a major 2007 U.N. report that seemingly confirmed the warming crisis, to Al Gore’s popularization of this gloomy message through his book and Oscar-winning documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

And let’s not forget the shifting political winds that elected a greener Congress and brought in an administration that made climate change a priority.

But now those skeptics are facing a new challenge: overconfidence.

That’s because everything of late has been breaking their way.

OK, overconfidence may be an exaggeration, but the wheels are really coming off the global-warming cart.

“Climategate” - the recent leak of e-mails showing gross misconduct among scientists with key roles in the U.N. report - raises serious questions about how much of the global-warming science we can trust. The scientists were, after all, manipulating the temperature data to show more warming and subverting requests by independent researchers to see the underlying data.

Other scary claims in the U.N. report, such as the assertion that Himalayan glaciers are on pace to melt completely by 2035, also turned out to be false and have been retracted recently.

Climategate and other scandals only add to the reasons for doubt. At the same time, Mr. Gore’s many terrifying predictions are not withstanding the test of time. His book and movie really played up the supposed link between global warming and Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately for the scaremongers (and fortunately for those who live on the coast) we haven’t seen anything even close to Katrina since. The 2006 through 2008 hurricane seasons were at or below average, and the 2009 season went down as the weakest in more than a decade. So much for a global-warming-induced hurricane trend - and many other such scares.

Another thing missing from the global-warming crisis? Global warming. Temperatures have been flat for more than a decade, and 2009 adds one more year to that trend.

Polling shows that the American people increasingly see Mr. Gore (and others) as the boy who cried wolf, and they are drawing their own common-sense conclusions. The number who believe global warming is real is dropping, and the number who consider it a crisis has plummeted.

Also declining is the number of those willing to accept substantially higher gasoline prices and electric bills - the intended result of domestic global-warming bills or international treaties that raise the price of fossil fuels so we are forced to use less.

Even studies conducted by the Obama administration find reduced economic activity, higher energy prices and lost jobs from such measures. In other words, global-warming policy promises plenty of economic pain for little if any environmental gain - a hard sell at any time, but especially now, given the lingering recession.

For all their stated concern for the issue, President Obama and Congress have an uphill climb to turn this into law. Consider one recent poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, asking the American people to rank 20 issues in terms of importance.

Global warming came in 20th - dead last - while the economy came in at No. 1. It won’t be easy to enact a law or yoke the U.S. to a global treaty that addresses America’s No. 20 priority at the expense of No. 1 - and do so in an election year.

There is still plenty to worry skeptics. One example: the Environmental Protection Agen- cy’s attempt to impose global-warming policy through costly regulations. Also, there’s no room for complacency so long as the forces in favor of global-warming measures remain powerful and persistent. But the facts - and the politics on this issue - are moving away from alarm. We may look back on 2010 as the year when the great global-warming scare really started to fade into history.

Ben Lieberman is senior policy analyst for energy and environment at the Heritage Foundation.

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