Trouble in paradise. The Washington Post shows signs of deserting the Clinton Administration on the global warming issue, and 50 TV weather forecasters are suddenly invited to the White House for a carefully crafted, climate change education session. As the countdown to the October 6 White House conference on climate change gets underway, we're beginning to detect an air of desperation.
Some at the Washington Post, of course, bailed out on global warming months ago. Columnist Robert Samuelson pointed out the absurdity of the proposals to limit emissions, and that politicians were not about to endorse such measures. "Horizons" editor Boyce Rensberger ran a lengthy feature article by Smithsonian visiting scientist Alan Cutler, which demonstrated not only that there have been significant natural climate changes in past centuries but also the difficulties scientists encounter in detecting evidence of future changes, natural or man-made.
But the editorial pages of the Post, like those at the New York Times, have tended to back the disaster scenarios and to promote the idea that scientists skeptical of the issue are being paid to say so publicly. This has created a bit of a dilemma for Post editorial editors as the reality of the situation finally became obvious even to them.
Last week--still trying to buck-up Vice President Al Gore's credibility on the environment and unwilling to admit that the scientists the Post's been lambasting may have been correct--Stephen Rosenfeld, deputy editorial page editor, found a way to save face, courtesy of Australian meteorologist Brian Tucker and his excellent article in the latest issue of The National Interest.
In "Climate Policy, Reality," published in the Post on Friday, September 19, Rosenfeld first dubs Tucker a centrist and then presents Tucker's anti-catastrophe argument as reasonable and well-founded. "In the Tucker view," says Rosenfeld, the theory about greenhouse-gas emissions "does not support the conclusions of the more alarmist and change-fearing environmentalists that calamitous effects from global warming are coming upon us. What is more likely coming, he thinks, is something hard even for scientists to pin down but in any event more moderate and gradual. From there he moves to the public policy judgment that the dangers can best be met by careful incremental preparation and not by drastic response." Tucker, says Rosenfeld, "believes it makes more economic and moral sense to adapt to climate change--with...dikes to prevent coastal flooding, relocation of vulnerable habitats, and acceleration of measures to replace fossil fuel burning than it does to drive world GNP backwards several percentage points per year for half a century or more in pursuit of illusory emission-reduction goals."
Those very points, of course, have been made repeatedly over the last decade by Singer, Michaels, Balling, Lindzen, Idso, and a host of other scientists. But if it takes an Australian to get through to Post editors, well, whatever works.
Other newspapers are also expressing doubts. The Boston Globe has run syndicated columns scathingly critical of environmental activists and their promotion of global warming. In fact, at major papers, almost the only ones who still find global warming science "settled" and "compelling" are Wall Street Journal reporter John Fialka, New York Times reporter Bill Stevens and the staff at the NYT editorial page.
With regional White House-sponsored Global Warming Seminars turning up considerable public resistance and even usually supportive newspapers breaking ranks, the Administration, not surprisingly, is getting edgy. Even so, the announcement on Thursday, September 18, that 50 TV-meteorologists were being invited to the White House to take part in the Global Warming festivities raised more than a few eyebrows.
The reason is that meteorologists--those who have actually studied weather phenomena, like Brian Tucker--have been among the most openly skeptical on the global warming issue. As such, they have been repeatedly dismissed by climate change activists, who claim that only scientists tinkering with computer models have a right to speak out on the issue.
Now the Clinton Administration is openly courting many of these same meteorologists, even holding out the "carrot" of being able to broadcast their weather reports live from the White House if they'll just show up for the "education" session. It would be too bizarre to think that Clinton and Gore actually believe they'll make 50 converts who will go back to their respective television stations and spread the word of impending doom. More likely, given the Administration's preference for image over substance, what they're after is media coverage of the event that gives the appearance that these 50 meteorologists--in the public's view the most benign and trustworthy of TV personalities--concur with the White House position. Already some of those invited are expressing reluctance to participate.
U.S. News & World Report, the weekly newsmagazine, reported in its September 8 issue that Vice President Gore had concluded that Americans are "not yet ready" to accept drastic cutbacks on emissions, energy taxes, restrictions on land use, etc., and that Gore would "probably come out against a strict new proposal by the European Union to clamp down on greenhouse emissions." What this may mean is that at the December climate sessions in Kyoto the Administration, via Undersecretary of State Tim Wirth, will go after a foot-in-the-door 5 percent emissions rollback--what it wanted all along--and try to sell it as a reasonable compromise.
The next few weeks will be interesting.