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Counter-Counterpoint: Jeff's View

This is Part Three in a three-part series. See Part 1: The introduction and Adam's View or Part 2: Counterpoint: Bryan's View.

Here is my take on Sen. Inhofe's (R - OK) Senate floor speech yesterday.

First, a little background on myself. I am a registered Republican, and characterize myself as a conservative. However, I do believe that global temperatures are increasing in the mean. The data are pretty tough to dispute, and I highly doubt that all of this increase is caused by artifacts like the urban heat island effect (the tendency for higher temperatures near large cities due to a high concentration of concrete, emissions from buildings, etc.). Also given basic radiation theory, it is likely that some of this observed increase in temperature is due to an increase in CO2, but I am not willing to go as far as to say that anthropogenic forcings are the driving force behind the climate fluctuations of today.

If you read through the speech carefully, you will notice that Inhofe never claims that "global warming isn't happening." The purpose of the speech is twofold: to debunk the alarmist view of global warming (HELP! WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!) and to attack the mainstream media for being biased in their coverage of the issue. I also doubt that oil companies played any role in the writing of this speech, or that the fact that George W. Bush is President has anything to do with the scientific opinions of the researchers at the National Hurricane Center or the Hurricane Research Division. If that was true, why bother employing scientists at all??

Here are a couple of highlights from the speech and my reaction to them:

If the alarmists truly believe that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are dooming the planet, then they must face up to the fact that symbolism does not solve a supposed climate crisis. The alarmists freely concede that the Kyoto Protocol, even if fully ratified and complied with, would not have any meaningful impact on global temperatures. And keep in mind that Kyoto is not even close to being complied with by many of the nations that ratified it, including 13 of the EU-15 nations that are not going to meet their emission reduction promises.

I agree with Bryan, Adam, and Sen. Inhofe that Kyoto won't do much to reduce global warming. In fact, the negative economic impacts far outweigh any positive climatic ones. (You may recall hearing that President Bush withdrew from Kyoto soon after he was elected. President Clinton had signed the accord as a show of agreement, but the U. S. Constitution mandates that the Senate must ratify any treaty before it becomes law in America. This was attempted during the Clinton Administration, but Kyoto was rejected 95-0.) However, I believe that every little bit does help, if it doesn't harm the economy significantly. Turn off the lights when you leave a room, or use more energy efficient light bulbs if you want. Think of it this way: if you end up saving money on your electric bill, it's a good thing.

The National Academy of Sciences report reaffirmed the existence of the Medieval Warm Period from about 900 AD to 1300 AD and the Little Ice Age from about 1500 to 1850. Both of these periods occurred long before the invention of the SUV or human industrial activity could have possibly impacted the Earth’s climate. In fact, scientists believe the Earth was warmer than today during the Medieval Warm Period, when the Vikings grew crops in Greenland.

This a good point. Too often, in schools and in the press, Americans are told that the climate was constant before humans and the Industrial Revolution came along. Not true. I wouldn't expect any reliable forecasts of solar output anytime soon either (aside from the 11 year sunspot cycle, which is relatively well understood).

Recently, advocates of alarmism have grown increasingly desperate to try to convince the public that global warming is the greatest moral issue of our generation. Just last week, the vice president of London’s Royal Society sent a chilling letter to the media encouraging them to stifle the voices of scientists skeptical of climate alarmism.

If this is true, it is very disturbing. Good science is not about stifling opposing viewpoints. It's about doing the research to prove either your opposition or yourself wrong. Undoubtedly, some scientists on both sides of the issue are seeing their judgment become clouded by their political beliefs. Nonetheless, Inhofe engages in an ideological ploy here by highlighting the dubious acts of one individual to make other climate scientists look bad. He uses a similar ploy highlighting some inane comments from the press to make every article written about climate change appear bunk, which a good deal of them may be. More on this later.

Earlier this year, the director of the International Arctic Research Center in Fairbanks Alaska, testified to Congress that highly publicized climate models showing a disappearing Arctic were nothing more than “science fiction.?

I believe that the Arctic has warmed more than any other area, due to various feedback effects. (Ice reflects a lot of solar radiation. If the ice melts, there is now a lot more solar radiation being absorbed by the ground, and hence a greater temperature increase, all else being equal.) I've even seen talks illustrating how there is far less sea ice in the last few summers than there was 10 years ago. However, a couple of weeks ago, I ran across a newspaper article claiming that Arctic sea ice was melting, even in the winter. It is too darn cold up there for ice to melt in the winter! I know people who have been to Barrow, AK, and, trust me, the sea ice expands in the winter, then melts in the summer.

This leads me to a larger point that I think Inhofe should have made, but didn't. Most of the time, when science stories are being reported in the media, they are being reported by non-scientists, who don't understand the true science issues at hand. The same is generally true for Hollywood celebrities; Al Gore is no scientist either. Thus, quotes from reputable scientists can easily be taken out of context and portrayed in the most attention-grabbing way possible. Ideas from various sources can also be synthesized in a way that doesn't truly capture the scientific problem at hand. Remember that hype sells newspapers and magazines, and makes people want to watch 60 Minutes after the football game, instead of changing the channel. This is part of the reason for the overplay of the global warming doom scenarios. Quite frankly, I don't believe them, and this is based on the science, not on the politics. Unfortunately, the two are growing more and more inseparable each year with respect to climate.

Go back to Part 1: Introduction and Adam's View or Part 2: Counterpoint: Bryan's View

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