from the Congress Action newsletter

Summer Heat

by: Kim Weissman
August 10, 2003

The August heat always seems to bring forth apocalyptic pronouncements about global warming (funny how we didn’t hear a peep about that subject about six months ago when large portions of North America were buried under several feet of snow that began piling up before Thanksgiving and didn’t melt away until May). This time the warning comes from Sir John Houghton, formerly a chief executive of the British Meteorological Office and co-chairman of the scientific assessment working group of the U.N.’s intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC).

According to Sir John, “our long-term security is threatened by a problem at least as dangerous as chemical, nuclear or biological weapons, or indeed international terrorism: human-induced climate change. … the impacts of global warming are such that I have no hesitation in describing it as a ‘weapon of mass destruction’.” Sir John claims: “The 1990s were probably the warmest decade in the last 1,000 years, and 1998 the warmest year. Global warming is already upon us.” But this is the year 2003, and if, as claimed, 1998 was the warmest year in 1000 years, then what happened to the years 1999 through 2002? If 1998 was the warmest, doesn’t that mean that the years following 1998 were cooler, that is, a four year cooling trend?

“Judging from the record of the past interglacial ages, the present time of high temperatures should be drawing to an end leading into the next glacial age.” That, James Schlesinger recently wrote in the Washington Post, is a quote from the National Science Foundation, from back in 1972 when the experts were sure that we were headed into the next ice age, and that indeed was the consensus of expert opinion a mere three decades ago. And if the 1990s were the warmest decade in the last 1000 years, it also means that temperatures were warmer before then, doesn’t it? Were there a bunch of SUVs driving around before 1000 A.D. that archaeologists forgot to tell us about, spewing carbon dioxide and making the climate hotter than it is now?

Beyond the hyperbole of calling global warming a weapon of mass destruction, let’s look a bit closer at Sir John’s claims that “The 1990s were probably the warmest decade in the last 1,000 years…”. According to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics,

“A review of more than 200 climate studies…has determined that the 20th century is neither the warmest century nor the century with the most extreme weather of the past 1000 years. …many parts of the world show the medieval warmth to be greater than that of the 20th century. … In fact, clear patterns did emerge showing that regions worldwide experienced the highs of the Medieval Warm Period and lows of the Little Ice Age, and that 20th century temperatures are generally cooler than during the medieval warmth.”
That Medieval Warm Period, from roughly the 900’s A.D. to the 1200’s A.D., is also called the “Little Climate Optimum” by scientists. Why “Optimum”? Because of the many beneficial effects experienced by civilization during that period (the previous big “climate optimum” followed the last ice age 11,000 years ago, a warming that marked the dawn of human civilization).

Dr. Thomas Gale Moore, past professor of economics at Michigan State University and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, wrote that that period,

“coincided with an upsurge of population almost everywhere … the warmer climate brought drier and consequently healthier conditions to much of Europe … food supplies were more reliable … [the period] witnessed a profound revolution that…transformed the landscape into an economy filled with merchants, vibrant towns, and great fairs … crop failures became less frequent … the Mediterranean flourished … Christian and Muslim lands achieved great brilliance…engendering great tolerance for contending religions … [it was] one of the most optimistic, prosperous, and progressive periods in European history … All across Europe the population went on an unparalleled building spree, erecting…spectacular cathedrals and public edifices [including] Westminster Abbey…the Leaning Tower at Pisa…Notre-Dame in Paris…Canterbury in England…Chartres…the basilica of St. Francis of Assisi… Virtually all the magnificent religious edifices that we visit in awe today were started by the optimistic populations of the 11th through the 13th centuries … Economic activity blossomed … a money economy became well established … manufacturing of textiles expanded to levels never seen before … European traders developed great fairs that brought together merchants from all over Europe … technology grew rapidly … new techniques expanded the use of the water mill, the windmill, and coal for energy and heat … Governments constructed roads … mining revived … art and culture flourished … Egypt cultivated a ‘House of Science’ where scholars worked on optics, compiled an encyclopedia of natural history…and described the circulation of the blood … Cairo [became] a brilliant center of Islamic culture … Possibly the oldest continuous university in the world was founded in Bologna … Cambridge University and Oxford University [were founded] …”. Moore also notes that the end of the Climate Optimum saw a decline in much of this activity as the climate became cooler and wetter again. “Wet roads became muddy tracks, rendering the transport of heavy goods arduous. Crop failures made for famines and more vagabonds who preyed on travelers.” (Climate of Fear, Thomas Gale Moore, Cato Institute,1998)

Human development has been influenced by many factors in addition to climate, but this reading shows that a slight warming is not necessarily anything to get hysterical about, and certainly no reason to impose economy-destroying, poverty-creating mandates.

What about 1998 being “the warmest year?” On December 18, 1998 the Washington Post wrote, “U.S. and international scientists officially declared 1998 to be the hottest year on record yesterday as worldwide temperatures continued an upward march that many experts partly attribute to man-made ‘greenhouse gases’.” (note the caveats) But here’s a list of the hottest temperatures in various locations, recorded by the National Climate Data Center:

El Azizia, Libya: 136° – September 13, 1922
Death Valley, California, USA: 134° – July 10, 1913
Tirat Tsvi, Israel: 129° – June 21, 1942
Queensland, Australia: 128° – January 16, 1889
Seville, Spain: 122° – August 4, 1881
Rivadavia, Argentina: 120° – December 11, 1905
Tuguegarao, Philippines: 108° – April 29, 1912
Scott Coast, Antarctica: 59° – January 5, 1974

Notice anything curious about those numbers? Only one of the eight is even in the second half of the 20th century, for one thing. And the second half of the 20th century is when the bulk of the carbon dioxide (the evil greenhouse gas produced by evil human industrial activity burning evil fossil fuels) was put into the atmosphere.

In 1998 the World Climate Report wrote that the “warmest ever” designation applied only to North America: “So where has all the cold air gone? In a word, Europe. In one of the least-publicized climate stories in recent memory, Europe has been hit with a major cold snap. More than 100 people were killed by a very cold late November Arctic air mass. Deaths were concentrated in Poland and Romania but weather-related deaths also occurred in France, Bulgaria, and Italy. Record low temperatures were widespread…”. Strange we never heard about the extreme cold in Europe while the alarmists were harping about extreme heat in North America. Or maybe not so strange, when we consider that the object of the global warming hysteria is less to ascertain scientific truth (as nearly as possible) than to denigrate human progress in general, and American technological achievement in particular.

Parochial analysis – if it’s hot in Washington, it must be a “global” phenomenon – is common to egocentric environmentalists. When an environmentalist looks out his office window in a high-rise in downtown Los Angeles and doesn’t see many trees (imagine that!) he concludes that “deforestation” is a global problem (but increased carbon dioxide promotes plant growth, solving that “problem”); when an environmentalist gets stuck in a traffic jam in Manhattan, he concludes that “overpopulation” is a global problem (increased carbon dioxide also means more robust food crops, helping to alleviate starvation where that is a problem).

One more point that Sir John did not address, but a point that recurs frequently in the arguments of global warming alarmists: that “extreme” weather events are increasing because of global warming. Available on the website of the National Hurricane Center of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a list of the most intense hurricanes in the United States recorded between 1900 and 1996. The list contains 17 hurricanes classified at the most severe category 4 and category 5 levels. Of those 17, only 7 are in the second half of the 20th century (again, when the bulk of the carbon dioxide was put into the atmosphere); and 7 occurred during or before 1935.

In October, 2000, the National Climatic Data Center issued a report that contained some interesting observations about weather extremes. “In some areas of the world increases in extreme events are apparent, while in others there appears to be a decline.” “Overall, occurrences of Atlantic hurricanes do not show a statistically significant long-term trend over the 20th century.” “…the increase in tornado observations in the United States in this century is likely due as much to the fact that more people live in tornado prone areas and are able to report tornado occurrences that otherwise would have gone unreported, as any real increase.”

But the NCDC still came to the following conclusion, which exemplifies the politicization of environmental science: “It is clear from the observed record that there has been an increase in the global mean temperature of about 0.6°C since the start of the 20th century, and that this increase is associated with a stronger warming in daily minimum temperatures than maximums. Global precipitation has also increased over the same period. Given these increases, it is expected that there would also be increases in what are now considered extreme events. Therefore, if there are indeed identifiable trends in extreme climatic events it would add to the body of evidence that there is a discernable human affect on the climate.” [emphasis added]

Why does an increase in extreme events require a human cause? If those effects are even real, rather than the result of more comprehensive observation and reporting, is there no other possible explanation? To suggest just a few possibilities other than human activity: the urban heat-island effect; galactic cosmic ray flux variations due to the solar system passing through the spiral arms of the galaxy, accounting for at least 66% of the temperature variance (the Geological Society of America); or the 11 year cycle of variations of the sun’s brightness and surface magnetism (Sallie Baliunas, senior staff astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and deputy director of Mount Wilson observatory). But obviously, there is a predisposition to blame the politically correct culprit of human industrial activity, even among many scientists.

Sir John came to the predictable conclusion – all of this is America’s fault: “Nowadays everyone knows that the US is the world's biggest polluter and that with only one 20th of the world's population it produces a quarter of its greenhouse gas emissions.” (By that standard, societies with lots of people but few emissions – i.e.: little economic activity – are to be emulated.) Sir John called on Prime Minister Blair to convince President Bush to do something about the alleged problem. “But even if he fails to persuade [Bush], there are other allies who would still respond to his leadership – even if this means opposing the U.S. until such time as it no longer has an oilman for president.” [emphasis added] Is there any clearer evidence that there is an agenda other than science at work in the field of global warming?


Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, 20th Century Climate Not So Hot: 

National Climatic Data Center: 

The above article is the property of Kim Weissman, and is reprinted with his permission.
Contact him prior to reproducing.

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12 aug 2003