The Year That Was: 1998

In the slow drift of days between Christmas and New Year's, when nothing much seems to happen or, if it does, nobody cares, we've been taking stock of 1998.

To begin with, it was a year in which the U.S. Vice President and leading Green groups staged press briefing after press briefing, promoting every weather phenomenon--from genuine disasters to the merely uncomfortable--as evidence of global warming. As it turned out, most newspaper editors showed better sense, and the debate over environmental scares, as played out on the commentary pages of the nation's newspapers, began to turn in favor of the skeptical point of view.

From June 1 to December 31, a time frame that included Mr. Gore's briefings and the UN summit in Buenos Aires, editorials and op-eds on global warming, more than 120 in all, were running 2 to 1 against the scare and the climate treaty. Even the Toronto Star refrained from further comments about how global warming would bring 150 million environmental refugees screaming across the Canadian border from you-know-where.

Better sense at the major television networks would be too much to hope for, but we take heart in reports that viewership of television news--in fact, television in general--is dropping like a stone. We'll see if Fox Network News, which took some nifty potshots at Carol Browner's handling of the Environmental Protection Agency, can garner enough stations to turn that trend around.

1998 was a year in which we couldn't seem to get enough of opinion polling, even though its limitations and our unwarranted faith became glaringly obvious. Ignoring the science, interests on all sides of the global warming debate turned to polling to make their case. A Sierra Club survey said Americans wanted the U.S. government to do something about global warming, even if other countries didn't do a thing. A coal industry survey said most Americans didn't believe global warming was even a problem. An oil industry survey said Americans were willing to spend up to $25 a month on global warming regulation, but not a penny more. An ABC News on-line survey asked respondents what sacrifices they would be willing to make to combat global warming: cut back on heating? air-conditioning? automobile? accept higher taxes? Two-thirds said none of the above. Despite the best efforts of Mr. Gore and hordes of activist-bureaucrats, surveys that asked Americans and, very recently, Canadians, to prioritize their public policy concerns showed environment far down the list.

Much more revealing than single-issue opinion polls, where respondents often say what they think they're supposed to say, were consumer spending patterns. Americans are still eating at steakhouses, driving SUVs, and buying up fur. The fur trend, which started a few years ago, became so obvious in 1998 that fashion designers slapped fur on every piece of clothing they could think of. The Chinese even tried to capitalize on it by exporting dog fur into the United States (thankfully my labrador retriever can't read this).

Is the public growing weary of finger-wagging scolds? Perhaps, for 1998 was a year that saw Green activists increasingly marginalized and ignored. Activist commentary articles appealed to the public to "take global warming seriously" and one published in the Buffalo News plaintively added that "global warming was no joke."

At the Buenos Aires summit, two activists in a downtown plaza unfurled a 30-foot banner warning of the perils of global warming. A third activist took their photograph, and then they rolled the banner up again and left. None of the passersby even broke stride. In Washington state, activists with the Sea Shepherd Society showed up with their own Norwegian-built submarine to stop a poor Indian tribe from hunting five non-endangered whales, and someone in the press actually saw the situation for what it was--ugly hypocrisy.

Some reporters started making sarcastic remarks about "do-gooders" and, in another issue area, the "food police." Activists responded by stepping up a campaign of direct attacks on journalists, including full-page newspaper ads; packaging nasty accusations about individual journalists and then feeding the information to environmental reporters at competing newspapers; pressuring editors to savage members of their own writing staffs for failing to toe the environmentalist line. Fascinating. In the end they always devour their own.

It was a year in which scientists at the fall conference of the American Geophysical Union contradicted Mr. Gore and stated that the strange weather of the past year or so was due to the El Nino--but we should do something about global warming even if we don't have the proof.

It was a year in which NASA scientist James Hansen, so sure just a decade ago that global warming was upon us, admitted that not enough was known about climate forcing to adequately predict changes in climate.

It was a year which saw another increase in U.S. life expectancy, despite all the activist-driven hysteria about electromagnetic fields, lead, dioxin, hair dye, coffee, milk, plastic toys, fatty foods, plagues, locusts, and melting ice caps.

It was also a year in which the Greens tightened their hold on our public institutions and promoted their own political party. Animal-rights activist and euthanasia advocate Peter Singer was invited to fill an endowed chair at Princeton University. SEPP President S. Fred Singer, an alumnus of the Princeton physics department, said he hoped the university's fundraisers weren't holding their breath waiting for his check.

As we prepare to leap into the void of 1999, one nagging question is whether Vice President Albert Gore, the heir apparent to the Bill Clinton legacy, is going to make global warming a campaign issue. The irrepressible (anybody got a holly stake?) political consultant Dick Morris thinks he should.

"I've got some great ideas for Gore," said Morris in a newspaper report last week. "I think there is something going on with the environment and global-warming and all that. There have been just enough incidents of crazy weather around the world to make people think maybe the environmental nuts and tree-huggers are right. I'm going to check it out with a poll and show Gore the numbers."

Although Mr. Gore has reportedly been gathering together the old Clinton campaign team for his own run at the White House, he would do well to remember that Mr. Morris is the one who conducted an opinion poll and advised Mr. Clinton that the public just wasn't ready to have him tell the truth--on camera, under oath, what-have-you. If there's one single person responsible for Mr. Clinton's impeachment, aside from Clinton himself, it's Dick Morris.

Happy New Year. Hang on to your sense of humor. And may all of your problems be small ones.

TW2 is compiled by SEPP Research Associate Candace Crandall

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