The Week That Was
February 9-15, 1998

The Nov. 27, 1997 issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research carried an important scientific research paper that pulls the rug out from under the Administration's position on global warming--and we missed it completely. It was tediously written, ponderous in length, had 43 co-authors, and published in a journal that rarely issues a press release. Our thanks to a science writer at Electricity Daily who boiled the whole thing down to its essence, and to lead author James Hansen, who reviewed the news report and let it stand without comment. We reproduce it here in full, from ED's Feb. 13, 1998 issue:


Famous climate change modeler James Hansen and 42 co-authors have published a ground-breaking papers, "Forcings and Chaos in Interannual and Decadal Research." The article, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, describes a failed attempt to identify specific causes, or "forcings," of climate change among the otherwise chaotic components of climate.

The authors note that, "Scientists and lay persons have a predilection for deterministic explanations of climate variations. However, climate can vary chaotically, i.e., in the absence of any forcing. The slightest alteration of initial or boundary conditions changes the developing patterns, and thus next year's weather in inherently unpredictable. This behavior results from the nonlinear fundamental equations governing the dynamics of such a system."

The authors' experiment took three major computer models of climate and ran them with no forcings for the period 1979-1996, comparing the result to the observed average annual temperature of the stratosphere, troposphere (lower atmosphere), and sea surface. Average temperature is chosen because it is believed to be the least sensitive to chaos. Then they added forcings--external perturbations--to see if the model gets closer to the observed values. If it does, they posit, that shows forcings have an effect independent of chaos. The five forcings used were stratospheric aerosols (mostly volcanoes), greenhouse gas buildup, ozone depletion, changes in solar radiation (the so-called solar cycle), and an initial heat imbalance postulated to be due to the buildup of greenhouse gases prior to 1979.

While the experiment worked to some degree for the stratosphere and the sea surface, where things are fairly simple, it failed utterly for the troposphere, where climate exists. For the most detailed modeling, the unforced case yields a correlation with observation of 26 percent, or basically no correlation. But adding the forcings in the order described above yields correlations of 23 percent, 34 percent, 34 percent, 26 percent, and 13 percent, respectively. In fact, the only model to exceed a 50 percent correlation for the troposphere is one in the unforced mode that hits 59 percent. When forcing is added, its performance dips to 19 percent.

The data appears to show that climate is chaotic at all scales, so effects of long-term forcings, such as greenhouse gases, are essentially unpredictable and undiscernible.

The evidence required from global warming promoters is not that the climate is warming up--it has in the past, many times, and in the high-end range of model forecasts. The problem is to show that climate is warming because of an increase in greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, independent of NATURAL climate variations. In part, that's what Hansen and his 42 co-authors were trying to demonstrate, and they could not.

One can haggle over the efficacy of climate models in Hansen's research, but we would like to point out that these same computer models, which failed to predict climate even a year in advance, were used at Kyoto to confidently forecast climate a century in advance and to justify deindustrializing the United States, consigning millions of people in the Third World to continued poverty and early death, and ultimately destroying the environment we are supposed to preserve.

We move on. President Bill Clinton's speech to the conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science last Friday was predictably quite a piece of work. Given the opportunity to hammer home his global warming views before an audience of largely scientists, he chose instead to stick to a tried and true topic, delivered with his usual "Aw, shucks" affability: more taxes on tobacco for the sake of the children and more cash for everyone. Smiles all around. What a guy!

The same day, Clinton nominated marine biotechnologist Rita Colwell to head the National Science Foundation, the organization that will hand out most of the cash Clinton promised. Colwell seems reasonable on most science issues--a big step-up for this Administration--but a year or so ago she reportedly attributed recent outbreaks of cholera in Latin America to global warming. Let's hope someone wised her up that it has more to do with poverty, poor sanitation, and the lack of chlorine in the water.

Which brings to mind the EPA announcement last week that it was looking into reports that pregnant women who drink five or more glasses a day of chlorinated tapwater have slightly higher rates of miscarriage (and, we might add, much higher rates of bloat). A few days later, Mozambique health officials provided a reality check, reporting that a failure to adequately chlorinate the drinking water has led to cholera outbreaks that have killed 286 people and hospitalized nearly 11,000. In case the upper-middle-class, environmentally anxious don't get it, THAT is an environmental problem.

Reports now surfacing that "Dolly," the replicate sheep, wasn't cloned as claimed came as no surprise to us. We thought something was fishy right from the start. After all, is there anyone who can distinguish one white sheep from another? Why did the scientists choose sheep? Dalmatian puppies we would have believed! But sheep?!! That was the tip off.

On a more somber note, we cannot close without mentioning our friend and colleague Julian Simon, who died of a heart attack February 8. Much has already been written about Julian, a population economist whose views put him strongly at odds with the Paul Ehrlichs, the Lester Browns, and the other Malthusian environmentalists.

Washingtonian magazine once named Julian Simon one of the 25 smartest persons in Washington. Fortune called him one of the "150 great minds of the 1990s." As Ben Wattenberg wrote in the Wall Street Journal, Julian "rarely presented a sentence not supported by facts" and, as such, he "helped push a generation of Americans to rethink their views on population, resources and the environment." Julian fervently believed--and more importantly demonstrated--that human beings and human ingenuity were the planet's greatest natural resource. In the process, he made monkeys out of population activists with their gloom and doom and irrational hatred for humanity.

The last time we saw Julian Simon was in the British television program "Against Nature: The Myth of Too Many,"part of a series we've discussed extensively on these pages. At the end of that program, as the credits roll, he is shown standing on a city sidewalk, crowds of people streaming past, smiling broadly at the camera and waving his arms as if to say, "Enough of this silliness!" It is a memorable image, at once funny, dismissive, reassuring, and endearing.

At a time when activists sit on awards panels and shower others of their kind with "genius" grants and prestigious prizes for "contributing to the salvation of the world," Julian's reward was knowing he was right and living long enough to see activists forced to acknowledge it. Maybe that is enough.

TW2 is compiled by SEPP Research Associate Candace Crandall

Go to the Week That Was Index