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Global Warming: Admitting We're Not Sure

With Doppler radar and other fancy gee-gaws, meteorologists usually can hit tomorrow's weather on the head. But when it comes to the five-day forecast, the old saw that a 60 percent chance of precipitation means that 6 out of 10 guys at the station think it is going to rain still hits the mark.

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So, what about "climate" science, which is essentially the five-decade weather forecast? Predictions in this realm are little more than fortune-telling, with the case for "global warming" having slightly more scientific basis than that for Santa Claus.

What has so confused respected news organizations like the Monitor? In the article "Should US Pay Bulk of Global Warming Tab?" (Nov. 28), the author says: "It's not so much the science of climate change that will be debated [in Kyoto] - most scientists agree that human activities are heating things up ..."

Reporters such as this one have mistaken the political debate for the scientific debate. The Senate voted unanimously to ask Al Gore, Vice-Weatherman: "If this is such a big problem, how come the developing nations, who will be the biggest source of increasing CO2 emissions, are exempt?" A fair question, but asking it doesn't mean the scientific argument is over - it's just beginning.

Both sides of this debate are little more than bookmakers at this point, as they try to amass impressive lists of experts betting on the climate. Al Gore said on July 28: "More than 2,600 scientists have signed a letter about global climatic disruption."

Who exactly are these scientists? Only 10 percent have any expertise related to climate. The remainder are an array of irrelevantly credentialed professionals, including doctors, lawyers, and landscape architects; a hotel administrator; and a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine. Gore has been fibbing about unanimity in the scientific community since he wrote in his book, "Earth in the Balance": "When 98 percent of the scientists in a given field share one view and 2 percent disagree ... their theories should not be given equal weight."

However, the ratio of scientists weighing in on this debate is not that extreme. To date, broad agreement exists only that atmospheric CO2 is increasing a little bit each year, and humans are probably responsible for some or all of the increase. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change set out to "balance the carbon budget," studying human contributions of CO2. But using models to determine whether increases in atmospheric CO2 correspond with the amount coming out of our chimneys and tailpipes is the equivalent of balancing your checkbook without having recorded anything in your register - you are stuck trying to remember where you wrote checks and for how much.

It is equally apparent that the earth has very effective mechanisms for "sinking" additional CO2, i.e., taking it out of the atmosphere. There is no consensus that warming is occurring, nor is there agreement that if modeled warming comes to pass, we face imminent apocalypse.

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Those who take a dim view of current human civilization, preferring that we return to a bucolic life as hunters and gatherers, have been practicing the schoolchild prank of putting the thermometer on the radiator. They loudly trumpeted early reports of rising surface temperatures often associated with urban areas; but they have been quieted by satellite measurements of atmospheric temperature that do not confirm any significant warming during the last 20 years, the period of greatest increase in fossil fuel burning!

Hoping to salvage the social revolution for which "global warming" is simply the pretext, Gore & Co. are mumbling new mantras about "sulphate aerosols" to explain the lack of warming. But nobody really has any idea what is going on, and a significant inquiry into the peer-reviewed publishing on climate change shows just that.

Brian Bishop

Exeter, R.I.

Director, Rhode Island WiseUse

Your letters are welcome. Letters for publication must be signed and include your mailing address and telephone number. Mail to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, fax to 617-450-2317, or e-mail to

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