Global warming: a skeptic's point of view

Last week this column summarized author Bill McKibben's perspective on global warming expressed in a recent article for Rolling Stone magazine, a gloomy view of humanity's future on a planet heating up due to an unprecedented amount of atmospheric CO2.James Taylor, senior fellow for environment policy at the Heartland Institute, has an opposing view. Like McKibben, Taylor obtained an Ivy League education, as well as a law degree from Syracuse University. Widely interviewed by the major media, he's also managing editor of the Heartland Institute's "Environment & Climate News." In a July 18 editorial for Forbes Magazine, Taylor lampoons statements by what he calls "global warming alarmists" who describe recent Western U.S. wildfires, drought conditions, and current crop conditions as "what global warming looks like." Taylor references two recent studies demonstrating that U.S. wildfires are currently at a 3,000 year low and on a 35-year downward trend. Likewise, Taylor quotes a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report which, according to Taylor, states that "a number of tree-ring records exist for the last two millennia which suggest that 20th century droughts may be mild when evaluated in the context of this longer time frame." Finally, Taylor disagrees with opinions assessing adverse crop conditions, stating in the article that "global warming is creating ideal weather that is producing record crop yields." One feature of Taylor's article is that he provides links to several of the academic studies referenced therein. The first link, for example, is to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences--certainly an unassailable source--entitled "Long-term perspective on wildfires in the western USA." Sure enough, the opening paragraph mentions "a slight decline in burning over the past 3,000 y[ears]." However, as the reader plows through the scientific jargon of the entire study, concluding remarks contain the following statement: "The divergence in fire and climate since the mid 1800s CE [Common Era] has created a fire deficit in the West that is jointly attributable to human activities and climate change and unsustainable given the current trajectory of climate change." Instead of reinforcing Mr. Taylor's statement, the study projects a future that actually contradicts his fundamental assertion. Regarding drought, a 1999 NOAA Paleoclimatology study entitled "2000 Years of Drought Variability in the Central United States" confirms that some droughts over the last 2,000 years were in fact more severe than the 20th-century droughts in the 1930's and 1950's. But the study abstract concludes with this statement: "The authors' assessment of the full range of past natural drought variability, deduced from a comprehensive review of the paleoclimatic literature, suggests that droughts more severe than those of the 1930s and 1950s are likely to occur in the future, a likelihood that might be exacerbated by greenhouse warming in the next century." Here we have a second instance in which the actual conclusions of an NOAA study contradict Taylor's assertions referencing such a study. Finally, with respect to crop conditions, Taylor faults Al Gore for mistakenly labeling current crop conditions as adverse. But in the linked article Taylor refers to, the statement comes not from Al Gore, but from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has "named 1,000 counties in 26 states as disaster areas--the largest declaration in history--as a result of the recent drought, wildfires and other extreme weather events threatening agriculture and many other industries across the entire country." (This USDA declaration is confirmed by numerous other websites.) In summary, it appears that Mr. Taylor either did not read the entire articles he was referencing, or that he willfully misrepresented their actual conclusions. Dereliction or deception? In either case, his biased viewpoints do not serve the public interest.

********** Published: August 02, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 16