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A Dubious Climate History Lesson
Volume 3, Number 34: 6 December 2000

The Economist's global warming article of 18 November 2000 - "Hotting up in The Hague" - paints a mischievous picture of earth's climate history. The magazine's claims that earth's surface air temperature is currently at "its highest level in a thousand years" and that "experts have noted that the warming may be accelerating" are extremely tenuous; while other assertions of the prestigious business journal are simply false.

The contention that current air temperatures are the highest of the past millennium is based on a hotly contested reconstruction of earth's climate history that ignores the existence of the well documented Medieval Warm Period, a climatically benign time of much lower-than-current atmospheric CO2 concentrations, when many sources of evidence suggest the world was significantly warmer than it is now. The revisionist temperature history also contains modern urban heat island effects that have not been properly removed from the temperature records used to construct the history. Similarly, much of the warming of the past century and a half is erroneously inferred from observed increases in tree-ring widths that have actually been produced by the aerial fertilization effect of the historical rise in the air's CO2 content. The creators of the New Age climate record also fail to acknowledge that the modest warming of the past 150 years is likely nothing more than a natural recovery from the global chill of the Little Ice Age, which they likewise refuse to recognize as a phenomenon of global climatic significance.

The assertion that the highly contentious warming may be accelerating - which The Economist buttresses by noting that the high-end warming predicted by the IPCC for A.D. 2100 increased from 3.5C in their previous report to 6C in their newest study - is even further removed from reality. It is based neither on temperature measurements nor temperature reconstructions. Instead, it is a conclusion derived solely from computer calculations of potential future warming that merely utilize a set of assumptions different from those employed in the last IPCC report.

The Vostok ice core record reprinted by The Economist and used to support the New Age climate record is said by them to make "alarmingly clear how extraordinary would be a 6C increase in global temperature by 2100." Apparently, they fail to appreciate that outrageous predictions with little scientific basis are almost always "extraordinary." So where's the cause for alarm? What this illustration actually does is make strikingly clear how cold the current interglacial is relative to the three previous ones. How much colder is it? Check it out for yourself. The Economist's easily-read figure, which they obtained from the Carbon Dioxide Information and Analysis Center of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, indicates the earth is about 2C colder than it was during corresponding periods of previous interglacials.

This well-respected temperature reconstruction suggests that another 2C of warming could well occur without any change in atmospheric CO2 concentration. Think of what would happen if such were to occur. The global warmers would love it! Their alarmist claims would appear to be totally vindicated; and they could proceed unopposed to have their way with the world's economy, based on nothing more than a grand environmental coincidence - the contemporaneous increase of atmospheric CO2 and mean global air temperature - for which there would still be no true evidence that the CO2 increase caused the temperature increase. In fact, detailed analyses of the Vostok ice core record have revealed that the major swings in temperature over this 400,000-year period have always preceded the major atmospheric CO2 changes, which suggests it is earth's climate that determines the air's CO2 content, and not vice versa.

The Economist also suggests that, with the warming predicted to occur as a result of the continued large-scale burning of fossil fuels, it is not unreasonable to expect that "mega-disasters" and "freakish weather in general" may become more commonplace. However, the palaeoclimate record of the past 2,000 years is a ringing testament to the validity of just the opposite contention. Over the colder periods of the past two millennia, earth has experienced much more numerous and severe floods, droughts, hurricanes and other storms than we have seen in the supposedly dramatically-warmed century just concluded.

But what about The Economist's claim that we face a climate change of such magnitude and swiftness that, were it ever to occur, many of earth's ecosystems would not be able to adapt fast enough to avoid extinction? Again, this assertion manifests a serious lack of understanding of earth's amazingly resilient biosphere and the beneficent effects of atmospheric CO2 enrichment. It is a well established fact, for example, that a doubling of the air's CO2 content would increase the temperature at which the vast majority of plants perform at their optimum by about 5C, which is even more than the climate warmers claim the planet's temperature would rise in response to such a CO2 increase. Hence, at the newly-elevated temperature, were it ever to occur, there would still be no impetus for plants to seek out cooler environs; and with the added benefit of the aerial fertilization effect of the elevated CO2, along with its sizable anti-transpirant effect, earth's plants would be much more highly productive and significantly more efficient users of water than they are currently.

The Economist also mentions the recent work of NASA's James Hansen and colleagues, noting that his team has looked in detail at the relative significance of various natural and man-made forcings of global temperature. No mention, however, is made of the fact that the team's analysis revealed that the warming effect of the CO2 produced by the burning of fossil fuels is exactly balanced by the cooling effect of the sunlight-reflecting aerosols produced by the very same process! Furthermore, Hansen's team has concluded, quite naturally, that the zero net forcing of global temperature produced by the burning of coal, gas and oil has been doing absolutely nothing to earth's climate over at least the past 150 years.

So, if the burning of fossil fuels has had no net impact on earth's climate over the past century and a half and has none currently, and if the CO2 derived therefrom is as the elixir of life for earth's vegetation, where is the logic behind the push to restrict the usage of fossil fuels? From any rational perspective, the Kyoto Protocol should be dead in the water; but it is yet alive and well, which makes us wonder about the reason behind the Herculean efforts being made to have the nefarious document ratified by the nations of the world. The foundation upon which the powers that be have chosen to erect their global governing edifice is about as substantial as the emperor's new clothes. Its fabric should be seen for what it truly is - zero, zilch, nada - absolutely nothing of substance and antagonistic to both nature and civilization alike.

Dr. Craig D. Idso
Dr. Keith E. Idso
Vice President