The Week That Was
August 31-September 6, 1997

As we told you last week, the Scientists' Statement on Global Climatic Disruption, issued by Ozone Action, was presented to President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore on July 24, during a global warming tutorial for members of the White House press corps. After all the breathless anticipation, those of us at SEPP were rather baffled when it immediately disappeared off the radar screen. We thought perhaps the Senate's 95-0 vote the next day against the Kyoto Climate Treaty Protocol had something to do with it, or that everyone simply got it confused with the IPCC's "consensus of 2500 scientists," another boondoggle. But now that someone has surreptitiously slipped us a copy, the real reason is obvious.

Although the cover of the report claims the signatures of "more that 2400 scientists, including most of the nation's experts on climate change," an introductory letter by George Woodwell of the Woods Hole Research Center (not to be confused with the famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute) lets journalists know they shouldn't get too excited about the climate change credentials of this group. The signers, says Woodwell, are actually "college presidents, advisors (unspecified) to governments, conservationists, landowners, reclusive academicians, and active publicists of science." (Publicists of science?!!)

None of the six initial signatories, nor any of the 36 members of the National Academy of Sciences listed, are members of the IPCC science group. There are two doctors of veterinary medicine, however, and numerous graduate students (listed as "degrees in progress"). There are specialists in botany, biology, entomology, statistics, crop and soil sciences, forestry, zoology, and oceanography. There are college deans and college provosts. There are even a few atmospheric scientists, one of whom specializes in the atmosphere of Mars! But "most of the nation's experts on climate change?" We're afraid they exist only in the imagination of the organizers. Better luck next time. Nicely printed report though.

Speaking of consensus, German meteorologist Hans von Storch and Canadian sociologist Dennis Bray recently teamed up to survey the opinions of some climate scientists about the state of global warming research. After securing a list of American and Canadian scientists from a group called "EarthQuest" and padding the German list with 50 names from the Meteorological Institute in Hamburg, which is heavily involved in climate modeling (in today's research this is called "unbiased" sampling), they mailed out 1,000 questionnaires and waited for a response that would shout "Consensus!"

Well, a clear consensus remains elusive. It seems that you just can't count on anything anymore. Of the 300 or so who responded, a majority agreed that "climate science is full of uncertainties and assumptions." And while a smaller majority felt that "global warming is a process already underway" (whatever that means was not defined in the report), only about a third of the respondents believed that "climate models can accurately predict climatic conditions of the future."

We note that Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Tim Wirth has also expressed a certain skepticism about computer models. No, not climate models; he's willing to accept those. He's against the economic models that predict huge job losses and severe economic consequences from bureaucratic attempts to limit CO2 emissions by curtailing energy use. Wirth was quoted recently as saying, rather incoherently: "Anybody who believes that an economic model is going to be able to predict to points of percentage increase or decrease, I'd raise your eyebrows or take a deep breath or...look at what those people are smoking." Funny how the administration always downplays the utility of economic models to forecast cost impacts 10-15 years from now, but accepts as gospel the 50-100 year predictions of global warming from climate models.

Finally, those who were involved in the battles over acid rain that led up to the Clean Air Act of 1990 will recall that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its Congressional allies rejected an inexpensive alternative--one that actually worked--of liming to reduce acidity in the few lakes where this was a problem. On September 2nd, the Environmental News Service reported that Sweden has been quietly liming its acid lakes for more than 20 years, with good results and at low cost. Now that the Swedish EPA has published its report, will the U.S. EPA take notice?

By the way, The National Interest, in its Fall 1997 issue, is publishing a provocative article, "Science Friction: The Politics of Global Warming," by Australian Brian Tucker, past president of the International Association of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science. It's always good to see another scientist so concerned about the sorry scientific basis for the Global Climate Treaty that he's willing to put it in print. Tucker really takes off on the fact that the Climate Treaty's goal is nowhere defined. In asking "Why the Alarm?" he successfully tackles the precautionary principle and concludes that the task of setting emission limits will prove to be expensive, ineffective, and basically impossible. "The credibility of the IPCC has been damaged," he writes, "the credibility of the core scientific work has now been compromised."

We came to that same conclusion last spring, when we learned that the IPCC had made unauthorized, far-reaching, clandestine changes in its 1996 report--after it was approved by national delegations.

Several SEPP publications are now in production and a SEPP co-sponsored conference will get underway in Bonn, Germany, in November. More on this later.

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