As with his attempt to nationalize health care, President Clinton has realized he can't get it all at once on "global warming," so he appears to have decided to take the incremental approach.
The president announced a more modest objective than he has previously stated by calling for the reduction of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels over the next 15 years. The unproved theory in which the president and Vice President Gore believe is that emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases trap heat in the atmosphere and cause the planet to heat up, melting glaciers and potentially threatening health and life as we've known it.
The administration is basing its alarm largely on a 2,000-page opus put together under the auspices of the United Nations and with the active support of virtually every major environmental group, from the Sierra Club to the leftist Union of Concerned Scientists and Environmental Defense Fund. But, as noted in an excellent overview of the report in the Nov. 3 Forbes magazine, the political decision to forge ahead on global warming is based on a seven-page executive summary, not the document itself. That summary was not written by a scientist but by Robert Watson, who at the time was associate director of environment at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He was appointed to that post by Vice President Gore.
The summary reaches different conclusions from the scientists'. Reporters are basing their journalism not on the report, but on the summary and its decidedly political conclusions.
Forbes's Christine Hill interviewed Peter P. Rogers, a Harvard environmental scientist, who is respected by both environmentalists and businesspeople. Mr. Rogers says scientists need "at least five more years to study the problem" of global warming. But the politicians want us to act now, before sufficient evidence is in.
Furthermore, says Mr. Rogers, the members of the executive committee who wrote the summary were chosen not for their qualifications as environmental scientists but for regional, racial, and gender diversity. Says Mr. Rogers, "Instead of looking for an expert in a field of study, the panel needed to fill a position with an African scientist or a woman. Debates were judged by votes rather than reasoning."
Mr. Rogers says that while it is true half the world's living Nobel laureates in science have signed a petition urging action on global warming, few of them know much about environmental science or climate change. He says that two of the three climatologists who have won Nobel prizes do not agree with those who believe human activities are causing global warming.
Mr. Rogers says while the trapping of greenhouse gases is a plausible theory, it is too early to conclude that it is the correct one. Oceans, he notes, hold most of the thermal mass of the Earth, and they have not been properly studied. Most scientists agree that ocean currents and winds play a big role in world temperatures, but these factors are not included in computer models that forecast global warming.
In fact, the models are so primitive that the Great Lakes and the Sierras are ignored. Predictions are so absurd that one forecasts the flooding of Death Valley. Another says that because of higher CO2, 100 years from now, rainfall in the Midwest could rise by 15 percent-or it could fall by the same amount. And most global-warming models fail to include cloud cover, the most important factor determining the Earth's temperature.
Texas A&M's Department of Meteorology chairman Gerald North has the right approach: "I believe we have a decade or so in which we can collect data and refine our models before we have to act."
That's a scientific, not a political, response. But the Clinton administration, always seeking new ways to expand the power and reach of government, wants to use "global warming" as a scare tactic to acquire more power for government and, as a side "benefit," propel Mr. Gore, one of the most radical of the environmentalists, into the White House.
The president's decision to adopt incrementalism is an acknowledgment that he and Mr. Gore can't have it all right now. But that's their goal, and principled scientists and businesspeople should oppose their ultimate objective until the facts are in.
© 1997, Los Angeles Times Syndicate