Clinton's Halloween Surprise: All Trick, No Treat

Commentary by Pete du Pont

In keeping with the Halloween spirit, the Clinton Administration recently unveiled the latest monster to lumber from the capital to terrorize the nation: a global climate change treaty intended to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The tragic flaw in this monster, like Dr. Frankenstein's creation, is its reliance on faulty and overreaching science. And like the Frankenstein monster, the treaty will not produce the benefits touted by its creators.

Though ground-level temperature measurements suggest the earth has warmed between 0.3 and 0.6 degrees Celsius since 1850, data from global satellites and weather balloons, the most reliable of climate measurements, show no evidence of warming during the past 19 years. While increased carbon dioxide (CO2) from human energy use is alleged to be the primary culprit behind the surface warming, the fact is most of the measured warming occurred before 1940 - which predates the vast majority of CO2 emissions.

Another difficulty for global warming prognosticators: why should people believe the apocalyptic projections of climate models when the models don't reflect past climate conditions closely, or even track current climate conditions very well?

A 1997 poll conducted by American Viewpoint, Inc. for Citizens for a Sound Economy demonstrates that climate experts reject climate change certainty. American Viewpoint polled 48 state climatologists about the likelihood of global warming. Their answers show that there simply is no scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming.

o Eighty-six percent of state climatologists concluded that current computer

models were not accurate and should not be trusted to predict future

climate trends.

o Eighty-nine percent agreed that past temperature changes have been large

and abrupt without any human influence, and 100 percent agreed that even

absent humans, the earth's climate would be constantly changing.

Finally, only 36 percent of the climatologists felt that there was overwhelming evidence that humans are disrupting the global climate. So much for the alleged scientific consensus that human-caused global warming is under way.

While many scientists, including a majority of the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), may accept human-caused climate change as a fact, not all scientific opinions are equal. The vast majority of IPCC scientists are biologists, ecologists, statisticians, and geographers. In fact, fewer than 10 percent of the scientists on the panel specialize in climate matters (i.e., climatologists, meteorologists and atmospheric physicists), so one should take their pronouncements as less than a certainty. Plant biologists may be able to estimate what the effects of a warmer climate might be on orchids or wheat - which, might be positive - but that does not make them qualified to judge whether human-caused climate change is actually under way.

Clinton's Halloween response to the global warming bogeyman is to try to trick the public into believing that only immediate action can prevent threatened warming, and to trick environmentalists into believing that the actions he has proposed will prevent climate change.

According to advocates of the theory that humans are causing catastrophic climate change, immediate government action is not necessarily warranted. A 1995 analysis by climatologists T.M.L. Wigley, R. Richels and J.A. Edmonds concluded that the world's governments could wait up to 25 years to take action with no appreciable negative effect on the environment. They found that governments can cut emissions now to approximately 9 billion tons per year or wait until 2020 and cut emissions by 12 billion tons per year with about the same effect. Delaying action until 2020 would yield only an insignificant temperature rise of 0.2 degrees Celsius by 2100.

In short, the government has time to gather more data, and industry has time to devise new ways of lessening greenhouse gas emissions without disrupting economic progress. Even if immediate action were necessary to prevent future warming, President Clinton's proposals will not do the job. First, because of a prior agreement, developing countries will not have to make cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions. Yet according to the International Energy Agency, as much as 85 percent of the projected increase in carbon dioxide emissions will come from developing countries. By 2025 China, already the second largest emitter of CO2, will produce more CO2 than the U.S., Japan, and Canada combined.

Second, climate change experts argue that the cuts proposed by the Clinton administration - to 1990 levels by 2012 - will be far too small to have any appreciable effect on the global climate. Indeed, more than 70 percent of state climatologists agreed that CO2 levels would continue to rise regardless of human actions to curb emissions. Only 28 percent of them thought that reducing C02 levels 15 percent below 1990 levels - far lower than the cuts proposed by President Clinton - in developed countries would prevent global warming if were occurring.

In summary, while there is no scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming, there is consensus both that the U.S. could delay acting for many years (certainly until more complete data concerning the alleged threat is available) without causing environmental harm and that the Clinton administration's treaty proposals would not halt warming even if it were occurring. So, Americans should not let the global warming bogeyman scare the U.S. into a horrific and unnecessary climate change treaty.