December 1998

Global warming proponents have used several dubious methods to convince people that the weather is getting worse as a result of manmade global warming. One way has been to extensively publicize every major weather event to give the impression that weather-related disasters are on the rise. Another way has been to use rising insurance claim numbers to argue that there are more weather-related disasters. Both of these methods give a false impression of reality, however.

The Worldwatch Institute and Munich Re, a reinsurance company out of Switzerland, have produced a report claiming that 1998 “has already set a new record for economic losses from weather-related disasters.” Storms, floods, droughts, and fires have caused at least $89 billion in economic losses so far in 1998. They also claim that “32,000 people have been killed, and another 300 million . . . have been displaced or forced to resettle because of extreme weather events in 1998” (

The problem with these numbers is that they tell us nothing about the frequency of extreme weather events. They tell us only the frequency or severity of weather events that cause economic loss. To understand how global warming may effect weather, it is necessary to look at all extreme weather events. Several peer-reviewed studies have not found an increase in floods, droughts, hurricanes or other extreme weather events. Other studies that have used economic loss numbers, adjusted for population growth, GDP, wealth and other factors, failed to find a positive trend in economically harmful weather events.

Early Credit for Emissions Reductions

The latest attempt to implement the Kyoto Protocol without Senate ratification is a scheme to use the threat of future mandatory emission reductions to compel industry to “voluntarily” reduce emissions. In return, they will receive valuable emissions credits. Dirk Forrister, chairman of the White House Task Force on Climate Change, told a conference that “credit for early action, would encourage industry to begin curbing greenhouse gas emissions in the expectation that emission reductions eventually may become mandatory. The credits earned through voluntary action could be applied to any required cuts in emissions or traded domestically or internationally.”

The Clinton Administration has developed a set of guiding principles for an early credit system. The system should give credit for reductions of all six of the major greenhouse gases “from any source in any sector of the economy.” It should also give credit for any actions that offset carbon emissions, such as land use and forestry changes. The system should also:

  • “be simple and straightforward, not complicated;

  • provide a fair reward for environmental improvement;

  • appeal to industry broadly and not just attract companies with newer, more efficient technologies;
  • provide information to the public about credits, helping to ensure that businesses get the same amount of credit for similar actions or efforts;

  • be consistent with an international emission trading system for greenhouse gases, which is under development, to ensure that credits earned through the program could be traded abroad; and

  • not create prejudices about a possible domestic greenhouse gas emission trading system.”

Forrister said that the administration formulated its principles through discussions with various industry sectors such as aluminum, steel, electric power, forest products, cement, natural gas pipeline, and commercial real estate industries (BNA Daily Environment Report, December 8, 1998).

The “Paper of Record” Assesses Buenos Aires

Very little of note happened at the fourth conference of the parties in Buenos Aires, other than a largely symbolic signing of the Kyoto Protocol by the United States. The two largest points of controversy, developing country participation, and emissions trading, were not resolved, even though the U.S. delegation claimed otherwise.

New York Times (December 8, 1998) writer John Cushman performed a post-mortem on the international gabfest and tried to put the best face possible on the proceedings. Regarding the two major issues Cushman said, “Negotiators at the conference settled on an ambitious two-year timetable for resolving those and other sticking points. But that means approval cannot come until after the 2000 elections, if it occurs at all.”

Eileen Claussen, former State Department negotiator and executive director of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change said “Kyoto is not dead. But I dont know if this can be done in two years.” Michael Oppenheimer for the Environmental Defense Fund said, “If significant progress is not made by the year 2000, we will never make the 2008 deadlines of the treaty. We have to get the rules in place, or the time will slip away.” Connie Holmes, the chairman of the Global Climate Coalition doesnt believe that the Kyoto Protocol will be ratified. “In about 2001 or 2002, people are going to say, . . . we cant do this, lets stretch this thing out. You need more time if you are going to change as radically as this.”

Regarding the issue of developing country participation, Cushman pointed out that China and India are still resistant to accepting emissions reduction targets. Latin America and Africa are interested but “want guarantees that they will get their share of the aid.” And as Stuart Eizenstat, the chief U.S. negotiator, said “The monolithic phalanx that we saw in Kyoto in opposition to any and all participation has completely broken down.” This was prompted by Argentinas and Kazakhstans agreeing to accept emissions reductions.

The issue of emissions trading saw very little progress. The European nations are still insisting that there be a limit on the extent to which emissions trading can be used to reduce emissions. Many developing nations are also opposed to unlimited trading. Michael Oppenheimer of the Environmental Defense Fund claims that the other nations are using this as a bargaining chip against the U.S., but that resistance is weakening.

One issue that is becoming important is “credit for early action.” Cushman wrote, “Many companies have already invested in energy saving and other approaches to cut their emissions, or are planning to do so soon.” Legislation has been introduced to give them credit for doing so. According to Todd Stern, the White House official who coordinates the Administrations climate policy, “This is really the one area involving the whole issue of greenhouse gases where I think everybody ought to be able to agree.” Indeed, says Cushman, companies who are opposed to the Kyoto Protocol “are lobbying hard to get credits for early action, just in case.”

Hotter Now than Ever?

Paleoclimatologists have used proxy data (tree rings, ice cores, and so on) to reconstruct the Earths climate in the distant past. Many remarkable discoveries have been made, including the fact that climate has changed dramatically and rapidly in the past due entirely to natural causes. Others are claiming, however, that this evidence shows that the current warm period is human-induced.

Jonathan Overpeck, head of the paleoclimatology program for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told an audience at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Fransisco, that the earth is warmer now than it has been in the last 1,200 years. “There is no period that we can recognize in the last 1,200 years that was as warm on a global basis,” said Overpack. “That makes what were now seeing more unusual, and more difficult to explain without turning to a greenhouse gas mechanism.”

“Not only,” said Overpack, “has the 20th century produced the hottest years on record but the magnitude of change appears to be without parallel since at least 800 A.D.” Overpack also addressed the issue of the dramatic warming of the Middle Ages, known as the Medieval Warm Period, which has been used as an historic example of dramatic natural climate change. Overpack claims that it never happened. He argues that “the thaw appears to have been limited to northern latitudes in Europe and North America, while other parts of the globe saw little change in temperature” (Washington Post, December 8, 1998).

Overpacks argument is specious, however. He claims that the temperature changes of this century are global, but this is untrue. Patrick Michaels, a climatologist at the University of Virginia, has pointed out that the small amount of surface warming over the last century has been largely confined to the northern latitudes of America and Siberia. The rest of the globe has remained mostly unchanged, similar to the Medieval Warm Period. This, of course, raises global average temperatures but so did it in the Middle Ages.

How Widespread are El Nios Effects?

This last year has seen the rise of El Nios fame. Many of 1998s notable weather events were generally linked to El Nio in the press. This may have given the public the impression that El Nio has more influence on the worlds climate system than is warranted. The September issue of the International Journal of Climatology addresses the issue of El Nio/La Nia impacts.

The study looked at El Nios impact (thought to be significant) on the South Pacific by studying upper atmospheric winds for three major La Nias and four El Nios since 1975. They found, “a considerable deal of inter-cold and warm event variability in the propagation of height and temperature anomaly patterns [such that] clear and unequivocal propagation signals common to all cold and warm events are not revealed. This is because the anomaly movement is rarely consistent from one warm (cold) event to another, especially in the subtropical to subpolar latitudinal range.”

Commenting on the study, the World Climate Report explains, “outside of the tropics, the impact from every El Nio or La Nia event differs. There is no compelling evidence that El Nios are becoming more common . . . .[or] are linked to global warming. In short , El Nios are like all other climate events unpredictable” (

El Nio and Temperature Change

The link between global warming and El Nio has not yet been made, but this has not stopped global warming activists from connecting the two phenomena. John Daly has taken a look at the satellite temperature data and the southern oscillation index (SOI), “an index number derived by comparing air pressure at sea level between Darwin and Tahiti. During an El Nio episode, the index becomes a negative number, and is characterized by warming of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean . . . . During a La Nia episode, the reverse happens and a cooling takes place.” By comparing the two sets of data it is easy to see that there is a cause and effect relationship between temperature and the SOI, but it is the El Nio/La Nia cycle that effects temperature and not the other way around.

The data show that “global temperature lags the SOI by between 6 and 9 months,” says Daly. “It is clear that the Southern Oscillation is the causative agent. An effect can only follow a cause, it cannot precede it, and so there is no dispute here about what the chain of cause and effect must be.

Daly argues that, “based on the the assumption that the Southern Oscillation is the primary driver of year-to-year global temperature, with a 6 to 9 month lag time, we can now predict that since the SOI has now gone sharply into La Nia mode in the last 6 months, global temperature will follow (with the predicted time lag) and fall to below the zero line (the long term average of temperature) in the next few months. The latest monthly value for temperature was +0.33C in October 1998, after reaching a peak of +0.72C in April. Since the SOI moved into La Nia mode in June, we can expect global temperature to fall below the zero line by March 1999.”

Commenting on the claim that manmade carbon emissions is the cause of El Nio Day says, “The Greenhouse industry readily blames greenhouse gases, but the idea that a few parts per million of CO2 can cause the overturning of trillions of megatonnes of sea water is fanciful to say the least, a reasoning based more on ideology than on science. Those who point to greenhouse gases as the cause of El Nio fail to describe exactly what mechanism they imagine the gases to be performing to achieve such a feat” (