The Week That Was
August 3-9, 1998

Vice President Albert Gore took to the podium again on August 10 to announce--once again--the hottest month in the history of the Earth. Actually, most scientists haven't had a chance to examine Gore's July data yet, but last month his claim that June was the hottest ever required later qualification. Dr. John Christy of the Earth System Science Laboratory, University of Alabama, Huntsville, took a look at the June temperatures over the United States. It turned out that, despite the heat wave in Texas, June was COOLER than average, as many people across the country have noticed. Summer temperatures here in Washington, D.C., were typical. According to Bob Ryan, local NBC weathercaster and former president of the American Meteorological Society, D.C. temps are running nearly 2 degrees F cooler than average for this time of year.

Something IS driving up global "average" temperatures, but it isn't global warming and it isn't affecting most of the United States. As the satellite data show, the warmer temperatures are virtually all in the tropics, between 30 degrees north latitude and 30 degrees south latitude, or roughly between San Antonio, Texas, and Santiago, Chile. If the Earth were experiencing greenhouse warming, as the computer models forecast, the tropical temperatures would remain relatively steady and most of the warming would be at the higher latitudes, such as over D.C. Warmer temperatures in the tropics point to the waning effects of the recent El Nino.

Indeed this is confirmed in a July 16 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and written up in the July 31 issue of the journal Science. NOAA scientists point to the El Nino as the culprit behind the heat wave in Texas, and say they expect its effects to linger for another 6 weeks. NOAA scientists report being "surprised" and "puzzled" by how the El Nino has tracked over the past several months, indicating that their computerized attempts to forecast its behavior were wide of the mark. Something to think about.

In any case, the possibility that droughts and heatwaves might be natural events doesn't seem to faze Mr. Gore, who mistakenly believes he looks manly at these near-weekly global warming press briefings. We've got news for him. The number of major media reporters who still think these things are exciting has dwindled to about four. In any case, for readers who'd like some interesting historical data on heat waves, forest fires, and other extreme weather phenomena in the United States, the National Center for Public Policy Analysis has pulled together a very good report. You can access it at It puts recent claims by Mr. Gore (and the Sierra Club) in a useful perspective.

Astrophysicist Sallie Baliunas came to Washington last Friday to speak at a Congressional staff briefing organized by the National Consumer Coalition's Climate Change Working Group--the "Cooler Heads." Baliunas, a Fellow at the George C. Marshall Institute and currently at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is well-known for her work on the effects of the sun's variability on climate change. She gave a terrific presentation, which was filmed and later broadcast on nationwide television by C-SPAN.

While we're handing out laudatory comments, kudos to ABC News' "Good Morning America," which had an outstanding segment last Friday on the urban "heat island" effect and how it distorts surface temperature readings. And here we thought GMA was just a kaffeeklatch show. Go figure.

On a more sobering note, we were dismayed last week by reports that 13 scientists had accepted $156,000 in payments from the Tobacco Institute to write articles panning the EPA's genuinely junk science on secondhand smoke.

Then we found out that in 1994 the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration paid its own set of 13 scientists just over $150,000 to testify IN FAVOR of OSHAs proposed smoking ban. One of those, Dr. Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, not only got $25,000 to testify but also received a three-year, $606,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute for research on tobacco-industry lobbying (something the Washington Times questioned at the time as a misuse of NCI research funds). Glantz was quoted extensively last week saying how scandalous it was that scientists would take payoffs from the Tobacco Institute. Ahem.

We also learned that the Packard Foundation has just awarded a $1.5 million grant to Oregon State University and the Ecological Society of America to establish the Aldo Leopold Fellows Program. Aldo Leopold, for those out of the loop, was an old line environmentalist and author of the semi-spiritual "A Sand County Almanac." Each year, in his honor, OSU is going to train 20 scientists to promote global warming and other eco-scares to the press.

The program will be directed by Judith Vergun, who also directs OSU's "Native Americans in Marine Sciences" program. The press release announcing the grant trumpets the active involvement of representatives from, among others, the Environmental Defense Fund, Time magazine and National Public Radio, not to mention the Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation.

Elsewhere, the BBC reported August 7 that the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee is urging the British government and the European Union to use "all available means to encourage the U.S. to ratify" the Kyoto Protocol. And to think we bailed them out of two World Wars.

Finally, climatologists at Florida State University have tossed a monkey wrench into Green claims that the Sahara Desert is marching southward and that people are to blame. Look at this remarkable statement, again from the July 31 issue of Science: "For the past decade...scientists armed with ecological studies have been fighting the idea that...desertification is widespread or largely human-induced. Now, they have satellite images to bolster their argument that much of what has been called desertification was instead the reflection of natural ups and downs of rainfall."

Where have we EVER seen it reported that for the past decade scientists have been fighting this idea? What we've seen instead is scare story after scare story about the expanding Sahara, prompting, as the article notes, "an outpouring of aid and an international treaty." Do we detect a pattern here?

TW2 is compiled by SEPP Research Associate Candace Crandall

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