Politics & Policy

The Fog of Warming

Dated scripts on the Hill.

On Wednesday and for the fourth time in the past two years, John McCain’s Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation staged a platform to publicize global warming. Just the day before, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) preempted the committee to announce another yet another McCain hearing, scheduled for next week, to air a UCS report alleging misuse of science by the Bush administration (report available at here).

The senior senator from Arizona has of late been eager to prove the UCS thesis. He called a hearing in January 2003, prior to Congress even convening, to trot out Sen. “Kyoto Joe” Lieberman as an expert witness. Lieberman is McCain’s climate Doppelganger who co-authored their legislation implementing the (unratified) global warming treaty. At that hearing, the Connecticut Yankee did not disappoint, helpfully informing the Senate that 2002 was the second-warmest year on record, and would’ve been warmer but that there was a manufacturing slowdown (we can’t make this stuff up).

Commerce’s admittedly broad scope still does not easily accommodate McCain’s cheerleading for energy regulation and related environmental policy. Far from addressing scientific R&D policy (and in addition to excluding testimony challenging his own view), McCain often ignores it, promoting instead amendments to the Clean Air Act, a law lying squarely within the Senate Environment Committee’s jurisdiction.

Statutory rules do provide Commerce one aspect of undisputed purview in the climate realm–the wonderfully timed, yet subsequently defrocked, November 2000 National Assessment on Climate Change (NACC). This remarkable achievement in political science was disowned by the Bush administration owing to NACC’s procedural and substantive violations, a reality that seems to have escaped Sen. McCain’s attention.

This week’s show starred (again) Sen. Lieberman, Drs. Robert Corell, and Jerry Mahlman, as well as staffers from the pressure groups World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International. All stuck to their same, tired scripts. Notable, however, were the roles played by Corell and Mahlman with the National Assessment Synthesis Team (NAST), the body that authored the disavowed assessment. Corell was among its leaders, while Mahlman (also now associated with UCS) regularly lectured to the team.

NACC was required by statute to be produced in 1994 but was nonexistent until certain minds deemed it essential election-year reading. According to the law, any such work shall provide eight specific “sectoral analyses”(e.g., natural environment, land, and water resources). With the sudden arrival of November 2000, however, NAST’s document conveniently emerged, even while admitting to have excluded at least half of the assigned subjects (the non-sexy half, such as the potential impact on energy and transportation).

NAST had solicited, and then for all practical purposes ignored, experts for a pre-election review of the draft NACC. Typical of the comments is the Environmental Protection Agency’s vain protest that, “Many statements in the Overview Document have a rather extreme/alarmist tone and do not appear to fairly reflect the scientific literature, the historical record, or the output of extant models.” This is scandalous given the assessment’s cost of upwards of $17 billion.

According to reviewer James Shuttleworth of the University of Arizona, “the document contains the conventional ‘looming doom’ perspective throughout … If its purpose is just to provide a further prop to the Kyoto treaty, so be it.”

Renowned atmospheric scientist Dr. John Christy had choice words for the draft: “It seemed to me that this document was written by a Committee of Greenpeace, Ted Turner, Al Gore, and Stephen King (for the horror lines). I saw no attempt at scientific objectivity.” Technical reviewer Ron Sutherland called the report “a political document, instead of an objective summary of scientific evidence.”

Numerous national laboratory scientists offered other gems made in presumed confidence, unearthed under the Freedom of Information Act and apparently of no interest to Sen. McCain. The best among these are available here. These reviewers address the overnight-mail rush they were presented, and the assessment’s reliance upon just two climate models for its remarkably specific, if often internally inconsistent, scary tales. Specific to that concern is that these models admittedly cannot perform the regional climate projections the assessment touts, and that when tested they actually demonstrated worse predictive abilities than a table of random numbers.

This explains Dr. Christy’s priceless summation that, “The document is an evangelistic statement about a coming apocalypse, not a scientific statement about the evolution of a complicated system with significant uncertainties.”

If the Senate Commerce Committee is serious about its duty to address the theory of climate change and the government’s scientific role, it ought to tackle the obvious crisis of politicized science. This is the one “global warming” issue inarguably under its scope. Instead, we are treated to a biannual political show-and-tell of the phoniest kind.

Christopher Horner is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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