Global Whining vs. the Truth

"105° tomorrow?  We'll be sending you out live," the television producer informed me.

Like most TV Meteorologists, I loathed the heat wave live-remotes.  I would much rather work in a controlled environment, complete with air conditioning and a green Chroma-key screen.  And during extreme weather events, the studio lent itself to professionalism rather than playing on emotion.

"Let me guess, the bank in Walnut Creek?" I said sarcastically.  I had been through this drill many times.

"Perfect location.  Plus, a lot of viewers with ratings meters out there."

Walnut Creek is an upscale town 30 miles east of San Francisco.  It is sheltered from the cooling influences of the coast and the Bay by a modest mountain range.  As a result, in the summer that region can bake.  The bank not only referenced the name of the town, but had a thermometer that was several degrees off, thanks to the heat absorbing black asphalt on the adjacent multi-lane street and the pavement of the nearby parking lot.  The producer knew 105° would easily read 110°.  On air, I always quickly explained the reason for the soaring temperature reading for our audience, but it was not enough.  The misleading visual message was absolutely clear:  110° in Walnut Creek-another sign of climate doom!  No doubt about it, the climate was under assault.  It had to be global warming.

No, it's global whining.

Even without the bogus bank thermometer, a heat wave-or even a hot year-does not indicate global warming.  More important, such weather does not point to any warming created by mankind's utilization of fossil fuels.  But telling that to the stooges on Capital Hill who are debating energy policies like Cap and Trade is like trying to tell the TV producer not to mislead the audience by sending the weatherguy to the bank thermometer in Walnut Creek.
The world's most thorough historical temperature record is found amongst the 1,221 official, government-sanctioned weather monitoring stations that have been recognized as a part of the U.S. Historical Climatology Network (USHCN).  Most of the stations within this network have records that date back to the 1800s.  The beauty of this system is that in so many cases the environs where the thermometer is housed has changed little over the decades, providing critical data to determine major long-term trends. 

In some instances thermometers within the Network have been encroached upon by urban sprawl and their readings notably have trended upward. However, for the locations that have remained relatively stable, the temperature record hardly reeks of global warming.       

A perfect illustration is found when comparing the USHCN temperature records from Central Park in New York City to those taken a mere 55 miles away at West Point.

Readings in Central Park have been regularly measured since 1835 when the city's population had just surpassed 200,000.  Today, surrounded by a metropolis of eight million people filled with some of the world's tallest buildings, a massive underground subway system, an extensive sewer system, power generation facilities, and millions of cars, buses, and taxis, the Central Park temperatures have been greatly altered by urbanization.  And, as one might expect, the Central Park historical temperature plot illustrates an incredible warming increase of nearly 4°F.

The West Point readings have also been meticulously maintained since 1835, but the environment surrounding the thermometer shelter has experienced significantly less manmade interference then the one in Central Park.  The West Point readings illustrate a significantly lower warming increase of only about 0.6°F over the same 170-year period. This is remarkable given that the year 1835 is considered to be the last gasp of the Little Ice Age -- a significant period of global cooling that stretched back several hundred years.

Cries of out of control global warming become more dubious when one looks at the hottest decade in modern history, the 1930s.

The summer of 1930 marked the beginning of the longest drought of the 20th Century.  From June 1 to August 3, Washington, D.C. experienced twenty-one days of high temperatures of at least 100°.  During that record-shattering heat wave, there were maximum temperatures set on nine different days that remain unbroken more than three-quarters-of-a-century later.  In 1934, bone dry regions stretched from New York, across the Great Plains, and into the Southwest.  A "dust bowl" covered about 50 million acres in the south-central plains during the winter of 1935-1936.  In some areas, the drought never broke until 1938.

According to the National Climatic Data Center, 1936 experienced the hottest overall summer on record in the continental United States.  In fact, out of 50 states, 22 recorded their all-time high temperature during the 1930s, including:

  • 110º Millsboro, Delaware, July 21, 1930
  • 100º Pahala, Hawaii, April 27, 1931
  • 109º Monticello, Florida, June 29, 1931
  • 118º Keokuk, Iowa, July 20, 1934
  • 111º Phoenixsville, Pennsylvania, July 10, 1936
  • 120º Seymour, Texas, August 12, 1936
  • 121º Steele, North Dakota, July 6, 1936
  • 117º Medicine Lake, Montana, July 5, 1937.

One might make the argument that the incredible rise in temperatures in the 1930s coincided with the first notable increase in CO2, thus, the gas can be linked to global warming  -- but not honestly.  While levels of carbon dioxide continued to increase during the following three decades, temperatures actually decreased.

According to NASA, the average temperature on the planet between 1940 and 1970 dropped .6°F.  By the mid-Seventies the media was abuzz with notions of the next Ice Age.  In its June 24, 1974 edition, Time magazine warned,

"Climatological Cassandras are becoming increasingly apprehensive, for the weather aberrations they are studying may be the harbinger of another ice age"

But those warning of global cooling soon became disappointed, as from 1970 to 1998 there was a slight increase in temperature (.34°F), noted in both USGCN record and verified by satellite observations (which only became available in the Seventies).

Since 1998 there has been no additional warming and indeed, a global dip in temperature began in 2007 and has continued into this year.

All this said, when examining the data from the most trusted sites within the Historical Network beginning in 1930 to present, there has actually been a net-decrease in temperature.  This decrease is noted in all quarters of the continental United States.

Thus, the biggest chunk of global warming that has supposedly coincided with the Industrial Revolution and the increase in evil carbon dioxide, mostly occurred after the Little Ice Age and prior to 1940.

And Congress needs to understand this: carbon dioxide is not our foe.  It is a fertilizer that is essential for life on planet earth; it is no more a poison or pollutant than oxygen or water.

CO2 is also the byproduct of progress.  The cars that allow us to drive to important places like work, worship, our kids' sporting events, the beach or the mountains, run on a very efficient portable form of energy known as gasoline, derived from petroleum.  Our homes are heated, cooled, and lighted more often than not from natural gas.  Companies that make the products essential to our lives also rely on these two forms of energy to create and deliver their wares.  The carbon dioxide produced from these forms of energy is identical to the gas that is gently being emitted from your lungs as you read right now. 

You are not expelling pollution: you are contributing to our planet's carbon cycle. And the earth has a variety of built in mechanisms to recycle your CO2.

Carbon dioxide accounts for only slightly more than 3/10000ths of our planet's atmosphere.  And what percentage of the miniscule amount of gas is produced by the activities of man, including the utilization of fossil fuels?  According to a thorough analysis by the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, a research wing of the U.S. Department of Energy, only 3.207% -- well within historical norms.  And how much has CO2 increased in the atmosphere over the past 150 years?  Approximately 35%.  

In his must-read eco-thriller, State of Fear, Michael Crichton creates a brilliant visual to assist us in wrapping our minds around the components of Earth's atmosphere.  On page 387, he likens the atmosphere to a football field.  The goal line to the 78 yard-line contains nothing but nitrogen.  Oxygen fills the next 21 yards to the 99 yard-line.  The final yard, except for four inches, is argon, a wonderfully mysterious inert gas useful for putting out electronic fires.  Three of the remaining four inches is crammed with a variety of minor, but essential, gases like neon, helium, hydrogen and methane.  And the last inch?  Carbon dioxide.  One inch out of a hundred-yard field!  At this point I like to add, if you were in the stands looking down on the action, you would need binoculars to see the width of that line.  And the most important point-how much of that last inch is contributed by man-made activities?  Envision a line about as thin as a dime standing on edge.

Are you still worried about the dangers of CO2?

Me, neither.

And historically, CO2 has been significantly higher than today.  In data primarily gathered from ice cores, we see carbon dioxide levels were 500 times higher during the Cretaceous period, some 160 million years ago.  Many theorize that the dinosaurs were able to grow to such sizes because of the indescribable abundance of carbon fed foliage and overall atmospheric conditions present during that era.  Certainly the SUV could not be blamed for those high levels of CO2.  Dinosaur flatulence, perhaps?

Despite the cries of Congress, the Earth does not have a fever and carbon dioxide is no more dangerous than the breath of life.  During the fall elections we need to cap the rhetoric from some of these political whiners by trading them in for people who know a good thermometer when they see it.

Back to you in the studio...

Brian Sussman is a radio talk show host on KSFO-AM in San Francisco and formerly an award-winning television meteorologist.  His forthcoming book, "Global Whining, a Denier's Handbook" is being represented by WordServe Literary Group, Ltd. 
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