The Green God

Recently a friend sent along a client trend letter outlining the collective thinking of the Ambrosetti Conference, a gathering of [...]

November 1 1998 by Chief Executive


Recently a friend sent along a client trend letter outlining the collective thinking of the Ambrosetti Conference, a gathering of exalted business and political leaders who assemble each year in Cernobbio, Italy, to ponder global trends. In attendance were Nobel Laureates Shimon Peres and Rita Levi Montalcini, along with other luminaries. The usual suspects of deep thinkers agreed that the world faces a number of major crises, such as the growth of international terrorism, the collapse of Russia, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Foremost among the conclusions of the savants at Cernobbio was that “scientific evidence proves [global warming] is real.” But exactly what scientific evidence? Concern for global warming arose when early computer climate models predicted earth temperatures might rise by as much as 5 degrees to 9 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s interesting that these and subsequent models consistently fail to predict actual climate.

Global warmers point to temperature increases measured from ground weather stations. Few mention that these sites are frequently near urban areas that trap heat and cause false temperature trends. In fact, satellite measurements taken since 1979 show a slight cooling in the mean temperature of the lower atmosphere of about 0.1 degree per decade. (As a predictive tool, computer modeling has much to answer for—just ask investors who were mesmerized by Long Term Capital Management’s sophisticated computer-modeled hedging strategies.)

Those who are convinced that the sky-or the ozone-is falling point to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations-sponsored committee drawing on 2,500 of the world’s leading scientists, as evidence of the unanimity of scientific thinking on this issue. But MIT meteorology professor Richard Lindzen, told a Senate committee that the vast majority of IPCC contributors were never asked whether they agreed with the small sections of the report written by environmental activists, which stated that human activity is at least partly responsible for warming.

According to several scientists, lead authors deleted key statements after the scientific committees agreed on the report text.

The following sentence was one of several cut: “None of the studies cited above has shown clear evidence that we can attribute the observed [climate] changes to the specific cause of increases in greenhouse gases.” Fred Seitz, former president of the National Academy of Sciences, said, “I have never witnessed a more disturbing corruption of the peer-review process than the events that led to this IPCC report.”

In fact, the scientific community is far from unanimous on the issue. A separate 1997 survey of state climatologists found that nine out of 10 agree that “scientific evidence indicates variations in global temperature are likely to be naturally occurring and cyclical over very long periods of time.”

This is not to say that the world doesn’t face serious environmental problems. No one wants to breathe polluted air. But does the evidence warrant apocalyptic rhetoric? As Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, once observed, environmental activists want more than a clean environment. Their commitment to political action is religious, and “their goals are far-reaching: to transform what they consider to be a sick, greedy, and wasteful consumer society.”

As a result, many otherwise well-meaning people prove amenable to the use of state power to force draconian social changes irrespective of alternative measures to achieve ecotopia. What’s puzzling is why so many people in positions of responsibility willingly turn genuine concern for environment into a secular religion. Environmental discourse is to conservation what the Spanish Inquisition was to Catholicism. Torquemada, however, never had the EPA’s exquisite tools of torture. “Environmental regulation,” writes Peter Huber in Commentary, “has become the mirror image of the problems it is supposed to solve, leaking into the society cancerous plumes of lawyers, administrators, and consultants, the brokers of ignorance, speculation, and uncertainty.”

Now there’s a crisis worthy of the Cernobbio cognoscenti.