The Week That Was
August 24-30, 1997

We were surprised to read in "Science Times" section of the New York Times (Aug. 26) that the South Pole has been experiencing the coldest weather since record-keeping began, some 40 years ago. The average South Pole temperature in July was minus 86.8 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking the previous record, set in July 1965, of minus 83.7 degrees. We don't want to suggest that there's a downward trend in temperatures, but it's comforting to know that the greenhouse theory and the computer models all predict that global warming should be more rapid in the polar regions than anywhere else. Let's hope the penguins can hold out.

Speaking of the Antarctic, "dramatic news" soon to appear in Nature breathlessly informs us that sea ice may have receded as much as 25 percent from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s (a period of less than 20 years). The report, by the Antarctic Division of the Australian Department of the Environment, Sport, and Territories, is based on a record of whale catches and the historical observation that whaling activities were concentrated near the edge of the sea ice. Of course, that's a peculiar way to measure the extent of the sea ice and then claim any abrupt change, but the researchers try to link it to global warming anyway. The researchers concede that satellites monitoring sea ice since the 1970s (a period of more than 20 years) have shown no clear trend. They dismiss the satellite data, however, as covering too short a time frame. (Hello?)

Among the reports that were late getting to us but too good to pass up: ecological economics is in the news, bringing the ground-breaking disclosure that wetlands (what we used to call swamps) are 150 times more valuable than farmland. This remarkable and recently published (Nature, May 16) discovery came out of a week-long workshop, held last year at something called the "National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis" at the University of California, Santa Barbara. (NCEAS is described as a National Science Foundation-sponsored institute dedicated to improving understanding of global ecosystems.) Thirteen conservation-minded ecologists and economists from three continents calculated a total worth of the biosphere of $33.3 trillion per year, with croplands accounting for just $0.1 trillion. What an opportunity! Turning cropland into wetlands would increase nature's wealth 150 fold! Great for mosquitoes; too bad about us human beings. A Stanford economist reviewing the report--and its recommendation that the federal government tax the depletion of natural capital--opined that "ecosystem services are absolutely essential for human life" and "there's no price we could pay that would be enough" to replace them. We think it's rather amusing for an economist to espouse an infinite price. Without croplands all of us would be filling our days hunting and gathering. Actually, for the authors of this report it might be a more productive use of their time.

Early in the week, syndicated columnist Alston Chase weighed in on the Greens' contention that any scientist not buying their view of global warming calamity must be "on the payroll" of some fossil-fuel conglomerate (Climate Cadre's Conspiracy Concepts, Washington Times, Aug. 25). As Chase notes, "those desiring fame, success, money or power do not question conventional wisdom. They realize that the road to success lies in pandering to popular fears and fancies, not in challenging them." He then borrows from the late historian Christopher Lasch and adds: "When confronted with resistance," the environmental elites "betray the venomous hatred that lies not far beneath the smiling face of upper-middle-class benevolence. They become petulant, self-righteous, intolerant. In the heat of political controversy, they find it impossible to conceal their contempt for those who stubbornly refuse to see the light." How true.

Scientist John Daly, in an Aug. 27 e-mail from Tasmania, said that we may have hit on something last week with our speculation--based on claims by the EPA and the Clean Air Trust--that clean air makes children sick. Daly says Tasmania has the cleanest air in the world ("and that's official"), yet has an alarming rate of asthma among children and a rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) that, until recently, was the highest per capita in the world. Well, do we really need any further proof than that? Clearly there's a correlation here, not to mention a new rallying cry for President Clinton ("For the sake of the children," pollute!).

Closing out the week, we finally got our hands on the impressively printed Scientists' Statement on Global Climatic Disruption, produced by Ozone Action, an overwrought environmental pressure group that has now decided that the "action" is in global warming. The Statement, endorsed by 2600 college graduates, many with advanced degrees, supports the White House position on global warming. Not surprisingly, this Statement was presented to President Clinton and Vice President Gore at the July 24th global warming dog-and-pony show for the White House press corps. Now that we've scanned the report, we understand why it was so difficult to get our hands on a copy. As far as we can tell, there is hardly any overlap between the 2600 and the "consensus of 2500 climate scientists" claimed by the IPCC. Moreover, we are fairly certain there were no veterinarians among the authors of the IPCC science report. This is going to be fun. More next week.

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