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March 2, 2007
Relax. Global "warming" is over, even if the anxiety that goes with it remains. Earlier this winter, we had several blessedly warm days — high ‘30s, low ‘40s here in the Midwest. That was bad, according to "climate experts," because it was further proof ...
Relax. Global "warming" is over, even if the anxiety that goes with it remains. Earlier this winter, we had several blessedly warm days — high ‘30s, low ‘40s here in the Midwest. That was bad, according to "climate experts," because it was further proof that the earth is getting warmer. More recently, it's been so cold that my car's automatic air-pressure sensor thinks I'm about to blow a tire. Near-zero temperatures and heavy snow in February are, that's right, more proof of climate change.

"Climate change" is an available term thanks to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a joint effort by the United Nations' Environmental Programme and the World Meteorological Organization, which recently issued its fourth update on the "situation."

"Global warming" had to be phased out anyway, because those who insist we change the ways we live in light of their concerns can't count on warming to continue. (They certainly can't count on cold people like me to worry about it if it does.) They were caught on the wrong side of this hysteria before: in the mid1970s some experts were fretting about a new Ice Age. Up or down, hot or cold — the game seems to be to get people to worry about the weather.

Every time I'm presented with a new harangue about how our planet is facing a climactic ecological disaster, I turn the page or channel. It's not that I can't be convinced by sound research, but that I have a reflexive skepticism about ideological fads. Moreover, I am not inclined to believe new versions of fears that have already run their courses.

Here are the relevant facts that virtually everyone agrees on: The Earth has grown warmer by about 0.7°C over the past 100 years, and that "trend" is most likely to continue for the foreseeable future. In addition, it's apparently true that CO2 in the earth's atmosphere has increased in volume by about 30% in the last century, presumably due to industrial expansion. From these details have emerged — via the IPCC, Hollywood, and even TV weatherman — frightening projections of rising oceans and flaming skies, drying lakes, and suffocating life.

It's also possible to find scientists who brush off these conclusions as unsupported by evidence. That would include a Ohio State University professor of atmospheric science whose studies show that climate-change models have miscalculated 20th Century temperature variations. Or, you could read a report by the American Geophysical Union speculating that if earth's atmospheric CO2 had remained at levels common prior to the Industrial Revolution, that new Ice Age might have arrived by now.

You might also look at historical records and memoirs that demonstrate previous cycles of warming and cooling and warming again, across the past 1,000 years in the Northern Hemisphere. These are long, slow developments that don't make good movies, or inspire big fundraising efforts, but the information is available even if it's less urgent.

And, it's the urgency of the climate-change alarmists that is most off-putting, because they seem so anxious for the rest of us to surrender any doubts. My skepticism isn't grounded in any great understanding of earth science: it's that I recognize cycles in politics and culture.

Right now I detect the cycle of an argument going back about 40 years — political demands for wider and more stringent air-quality standards, court-defined Maximum Achievable Control Technologies, and unworkable international "protocols" on climate change. Over and over again, the histrionics take the headlines, and, more gradually, sound economics and practical engineering develop solutions. I expect it will happen again.

But that, in any case, seems to be a lesser point. The larger point — perhaps part of an accelerating cycle — is human nature's inclination to hysteria. We live now at the pinnacle of civilization, when more people have more freedom, more resources, and more information than at any time in the past. And yet, these advantages exaggerate our sense of chaos — of all that we cannot control. It fuels widespread anxiety, so a mudslide, or drought, or hurricane seems like the coming apocalypse. It's not. And if it were, I wouldn't trust us to know it.

About the Author

Robert Brooks | Content Director

Robert Brooks has been a business-to-business reporter, writer, editor, and columnist for more than 20 years, specializing in the primary metal and basic manufacturing industries. His work has covered a wide range of topics, including process technology, resource development, material selection, product design, workforce development, and industrial market strategies, among others. Currently, he specializes in subjects related to metal component and product design, development, and manufacturing — including castings, forgings, machined parts, and fabrications.

Brooks is a graduate of Kenyon College (B.A. English, Political Science) and Emory University (M.A. English.)