In 2008, a 100 Percent Chance of Alarm
By JOHN TIERNEY - January 1, 2008
in for very bad weather. In 2008, your television will bring you image
after frightening image of natural havoc linked to global warming. You
will be told that such bizarre weather must be a sign of dangerous
climate change — and that these images are a mere preview of what’s in
store unless we act quickly to cool the planet.
I can’t be more specific. I don’t know if disaster will come by flood
or drought, hurricane or blizzard, fire or ice. Nor do I have any idea
how much the planet will warm this year or what that means for your
local forecast. Long-term climate models cannot explain short-term
But there’s bound to be some weird weather
somewhere, and we will react like the sailors in the Book of Jonah.
When a storm hit their ship, they didn’t ascribe it to a seasonal
weather pattern. They quickly identified the cause (Jonah’s sinfulness)
and agreed to an appropriate policy response (throw Jonah overboard).
interpreters of the weather are what social scientists call
availability entrepreneurs: the activists, journalists and
publicity-savvy scientists who selectively monitor the globe looking
for newsworthy evidence of a new form of sinfulness, burning fossil
A year ago,
British meteorologists made headlines predicting that the buildup of
greenhouse gases would help make 2007 the hottest year on record. At
year’s end, even though the British scientists reported the global
temperature average was not a new record — it was actually lower than
any year since 2001 — the BBC confidently proclaimed, “2007 Data Confirms Warming Trend.”
the Arctic sea ice last year hit the lowest level ever recorded by
satellites, it was big news and heralded as a sign that the whole
planet was warming. When the Antarctic sea ice last year reached the highest level ever recorded by satellites, it was pretty much ignored. A
large part of Antarctica has been cooling recently, but most coverage
of that continent has focused on one small part that has warmed.
Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans in 2005, it was supposed to be a
harbinger of the stormier world predicted by some climate modelers.
When the next two hurricane seasons were fairly calm — by some measures, last season in the Northern Hemisphere was the calmest in three decades —
the availability entrepreneurs changed the subject. Droughts in
California and Australia became the new harbingers of climate change
(never mind that a warmer planet is projected to have more, not less,
precipitation over all).
The most charitable excuse for this
bias in weather divination is that the entrepreneurs are trying to
offset another bias. The planet has indeed gotten warmer, and it is
projected to keep warming because of greenhouse emissions, but this
process is too slow to make much impact on the public.
judging risks, we often go wrong by using what’s called the
availability heuristic: we gauge a danger according to how many
examples of it are readily available in our minds. Thus we overestimate
the odds of dying in a terrorist attack or a plane crash because we’ve
seen such dramatic deaths so often on television; we underestimate the
risks of dying from a stroke because we don’t have so many vivid images
Slow warming doesn’t make for memorable
images on television or in people’s minds, so activists, journalists
and scientists have looked to hurricanes, wild fires and starving polar
bears instead. They have used these images to start an “availability
cascade,” a term coined by Timur Kuran, a professor of economics and
law at the University of Southern California, and Cass R. Sunstein, a
law professor at the University of Chicago.
cascade is a self-perpetuating process: the more attention a danger
gets, the more worried people become, leading to more news coverage and
more fear. Once the images of Sept. 11 made terrorism seem a major
threat, the press and the police lavished attention on potential new
attacks and supposed plots. After Three Mile Island and “The China
Syndrome,” minor malfunctions at nuclear power plants suddenly became
Once a cascade is under way, it becomes tough to
sort out risks because experts become reluctant to dispute the popular
wisdom, and are ignored if they do. Now that the melting Arctic has
become the symbol of global warming, there’s not much interest in
hearing other explanations of why the ice is melting—or why the globe’s
other pole isn’t melting, too.
Global warming has an impact
on both polar regions, but they’re also strongly influenced by regional
weather patterns and ocean currents. Two studies by NASA
and university scientists last year concluded that much of the recent
melting of Arctic sea ice was related to a cyclical change in ocean
currents and winds, but those studies got relatively little
attention—and were certainly no match for the images of struggling
polar bears so popular with availability entrepreneurs.
A. Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University
of Colorado, recently noted the very different reception received last
year by two conflicting papers on the link between hurricanes and
global warming. He counted 79 news articles about a paper in the
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, and only 3 news
articles about one in a far more prestigious journal, Nature.
Guess which paper jibed with the theory — and image of Katrina — presented by Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth”?
was, of course, the paper in the more obscure journal, which suggested
that global warming is creating more hurricanes. The paper in Nature
concluded that global warming has a minimal effect on hurricanes. It
was published in December — by coincidence, the same week that Mr. Gore
received his Nobel Peace Prize.
In his acceptance speech,
Mr. Gore didn’t dwell on the complexities of the hurricane debate. Nor,
in his roundup of the 2007 weather, did he mention how calm the
hurricane season had been. Instead, he alluded somewhat mysteriously to
“stronger storms in the Atlantic and Pacific,” and focused on other
kinds of disasters, like “massive droughts” and “massive flooding.”
the last few months,” Mr. Gore said, “it has been harder and harder to
misinterpret the signs that our world is spinning out of kilter.” But
he was being too modest. Thanks to availability entrepreneurs like him,
misinterpreting the weather is getting easier and easier.
On the subject of Global Warming one can go to any search engine and type in the words "Precession" without the quotation marks and find many articles that go much farther in answering the global warming question. At least much farther than the scare tactics that we are bombarded with by MSM. The most obvious facts are that global warming and global cooling occur without industrial contributions or any other man made efforts.