The Week That Was
September 21-27, 1997

More kudos to the Washington Post, this time for an extensive and well-balanced piece on the El Niño phenomenon. Written by Post staff writer Curt Suplee, "El Niño: Preparing for the Worst" (Sunday, 9/21, Page 1), manages to cover all of the concerns about unusual climate effects without falling into the trap of blaming it on a global warming that hasn't shown up yet. In fact, Suplee says most climate experts would agree that as you increase CO2 you don't see any increase in El Niños. (Don't tell that to Clinton/Gore, who are heavily promoting the idea that you do.)

We think someone should send that article (and a few others) to media mogul Ted Turner, who as a yachtsman was fearless in the face of a typhoon off the coast of Cornwall some years ago, but proves a real weenie when contemplating the loss of his beachfront property. On September 18, CNN's "Larry King Live" aired this exchange between the host and our hero. Larry King: "Global warming, you were very strong on that tonight, and you said everybody knows that there's global warming." Ted Turner: "That's right, haven't you been outside lately? It's hotter than Hell out there! The polar ice caps are melting! I got an island, and I know that the ocean's rising because I watched my beach get washed away."

Well, beach erosion is a complex phenomenon, affected by severe storm systems and human activities, like digging channels--so that people like Mr. Turner can get their boats out to sea--and building sea walls. Sea level is rising, 1.8 millimeters a year on average, but it's been rising for hundreds of years, an action thought to result from the movement of continents--plate tectonics--not global warming. Some countries very far to the north, in Scandinavia for example, are not seeing beach erosion. They have been pushing up land mass, rebounding from the last Ice Age 11,000 years ago. Moreover, recent scientific studies indicate that a putative global warming would slow down sea-level rise, not accellerate it. Warmer temperatures would produce more precipitation over the poles and thicken the ice caps--more than offsetting any glacier melting at the margins. We suggest that Mr. Turner lower his anxiety level; turn off CNN Headline News.

Those of us who consider the global warming scare rather dubious--and the proposals to be voted on at the December UN Climate Treaty meeting in Kyoto even more so--have been absolutely baffled recently by the position taken by the Swedish government. Not only do the Swedes appear to support drastic measures to limit fossil fuel burning, but--being true-blue environmentalists--they've announced plans to dismantle their nuclear power plants as well.

What Sweden was going to use as a substitute fuel was a bit of a puzzle until last week, when an item appeared in the newsmagazine U.S. News & World Report. On page 12, under the headline "Death Warmed Over," reporter Jay Maeder reveals that "dead people are now heating thousands of homes in Sweden, their posthumous candlepower piped to local energy companies from the ovens of two high-tech crematoriums."

Swedish officials, who kept this energy-generating experiment secret for six months, were unmoved by the uproar that resulted when word finally leaked out. Burning the dead to produce electricity is "only sensible," argued a Helsingborg crematorium official, adding "it's environmentally friendly! And relatives can console themselves that the death of a loved one benefits the whole community!" Said one clergyman, however, "No one wants Aunt Astrid heating up the living room." What is more, though the relatives do get ashes back, we suspect that the ashes are somewhat intermingled. After all, you can't generate much power toasting folks one at a time.

Despite the public outcry, the ever practical Swedish government has no immediate plans to discontinue the project. As one official put it, "We just can't afford to be sentimental about this." No, absolutely not. But given the disdain many environmentalists have for human beings, can the Swedes be certain the Greens in government will actually wait until they're dead?

Here in Washington, the Clinton Administration has been encouraging the national news media to step up their coverage of global climate issues and shill for the Climate Treaty. One of our media watchers reports that the Associated Press has been only too happy to comply. On Saturday, Sept. 13, AP filed no less than four climate change stories in the space of 10 minutes on its national news wire: "Climate Change Spurs Global Concern," a long special report by special correspondent Charles J. Hanley; "Clock Ticks for Tropical Paradise," a report from the "doomed" Maldives, which will be drowned if sea level goes up (unless, of course, it goes down); "Global Warming Picture Getting Clearer," a profile of climate modeler James Hansen (we liked the crystal ball imagery); and "Global Warming Misconceptions," which disabuses readers of some "common misconceptions" about climate change, such as the assumption that "A Planet Warmer by 2 Degrees Doesn't Sound Bad." Our media watcher notes that not a single one of these reports was prompted by a news event; no research being published, no conference, public speeches, or science breakthroughs. AP just "lending a hand." Gee, and we thought we had an independent press.

Following up on our mention of malaria last week, excellent discussions of this parasitic disease have recently appeared in the Atlantic Monthly and Nature. The situation is serious and yet has long been ignored. Some analysts see malaria researchers latching onto the global warming issue in a desperate attempt to prompt some action from international health organizations. If you want an objective view, these articles are well worth reading.

Next Wednesday, Oct. 1st, the Clinton Administration has prepared a global warming presentation for invited TV weathercasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration auditorium in Silver Spring, Maryland, part of an announced "series" of presentations designed to encourage weathercasters' cooperation in the government's global warming PR campaign. After the program, the whole group will be bussed over to the White House to schmooze with Bill and Al and get their picture taken.

Ann Lewis, Clinton's communications director, noted in a Sept. 18 article in the Washington Post that TV weathercasters have "great local credibility. They can give the public more information and help us communicate the issue in an unexpected and likely-to-be heard way." Besides, she added, meteorologists routinely offer five-day forecasts; why not predict rising temperatures over the next decade or two? Well, Ann, here's one reason why not--the difficulty in accurately predicting the exact temperature over five days!

The fun starts this week.

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