Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Global Warming Deniers: Doubt Is Our Product

In one of the most infamous tobacco company documents unveiled in litigation, one of the Tobacco Institute's paid cancer deniers stated "doubt is our product."

Taking a page from that book, the global warming deniers jostle facts, cherry pick data and work off the same talking points in an incessant drumbeat intended to create just enough doubt to hinder or thwart policy initiatives that just might prove inconvenient to Dirty Coal and Big Oil.

One we saw today was an editorial in Investors Business Daily arguing that because winter sea ice levels have not declined significantly over the past four decades, there must not really be global warming. The conservative British Guardian carried a similar piece not too long ago, and for some reason the RealClearPolitics and RealClearMarkets folks love to highlight these on their front pages.

Global warming, of course, does not occur in a straight line. Some years are quite warm, others less warm, and some downright cool. A few months, a year, or even several years, of cooler weather doesn't negate the warming data. Nor can you point to a single data point and say "aha"--there's your doubt.

The extent of WINTER sea ice has not varied significantly over the past 40 years, but summer sea ice is a different story. In the northern hemisphere, summer sea ice has declined significantly over the past 100 years, as shown in the chart below, from Cryosphere Today, a website maintained by the Polar Research Group at the Univ. of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

If all we had to go on was a decline in summer sea ice in the northern hemisphere, it would indeed be a close question. But there are tons of other data that global warming deniers simply ignore. Investors Business Daily, for example, made no mention of recently reported findings, from satellite measurements, that the ice cap covering Greenland is thinning at an alarming rate.

Melting sea ice does not raise sea levels. But melting ice covering Greenland does, and is a cause for real concern.

In any event, regardless of global warming, moving away from fossil fuels--especially oil--is a win-win for Americans as it lessens our dependence on oil from politically unstable regimes, and helps move us closer to the day when these fuels (particularly oil) will be sufficiently scarce that alternatives will be quite necessary.

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