In the last couple of weeks it's been snowing in Kyoto, snowing in London, snowing in Washington, and snowing all over Mexico--in Guadalajara for the first time since 1881. Early flurries should have given some of the delegates to the Kyoto Global Warming talks reason to pause, but no. By day 5 we knew Americans were in trouble. There in front of the conference hall, on heat-absorbing blacktop, encircled by a "prayer group" pleading for forgiveness, the ice penguins finally started to melt. And brother, it was downhill from then on.
Kyoto, according to S. Fred Singer, economist Thomas Gale Moore, and numerous other hapless observers, was a sea of the silly, the simple, and the sanctimonious. Kyoto hotels, determined to set a good example, left little notes in all the rooms expressing concern about "destructive climate changes," then asked patrons to get by on one sliver of soap and to have the decency not to request clean towels every day.
Over at the conference center, Greenpeace continued to have trouble with Mother Nature. Having mounted a huge "kitchen of tomorrow" display, complete with a refrigerator powered by $20,000, 15-foot-high solar panels (put THAT under your Christmas tree!), Greenpeace announced plans to offer free solar-brewed coffee to all comers. Of course, the sun didn't shine for the first three days and the coffee pot didn't work, suggesting a serious glitch in their rather expensive system.
Outside the conference center, representatives of the Korean Federation of Environmental Movements was festooning the shrubbery with snappy slogans: "Cool the Earth, Save Us," "Please: Gas Masks!", No Nukes, No Fossil Fuels for Us," and "Silent but Angry." Inside, Korean delegates were refusing to be held to any binding constraints on emissions. Outside, indoctrinated Japanese politicians decreed that all thermostats be turned down to 68 degrees fahrenheit, and later dealt with complaints from chilly conferees by handing out shawls emblazoned with "Smart Life with Energy Saving." Inside, indoctrinated Japanese kiddies, following the trend set by AIDS activists, hung quilts proclaiming their abhorrence of global warming.
Kyoto drew 3,500 registered journalists, who spent most of their time looking for someone to interview. Anyone with the slightest claim to importance was followed around by an entourage of TV cameras and reporters hoping that he or she would say something significant. Failing that, reporters interviewed each other or, if they got really desperate, interviewed those not of the faith, i.e. skeptical scientists, unconvinced economists, and others still exhibiting sane behavior.
On the day of the Vice President's long-awaited "16,000 miles for five minutes" address, events were more evocative of a Hollywood movie than an international summit. Reporters relegated to watching Gore's speech on big screen TVs (only a handpicked 50 were allowed inside the conference hall) behaved like the supporting cast in 1984 or Close Encounters of the Third Kind. As Gore's giant image appeared on screen, hordes of reporters crowded around each video projector, taking photographs of the TV, pressing their microphones up to the speakers, and straining to catch every word emanating from this New Age Big Brother.
Inside the conference center, Gore pulled off a remarkable rendition of Elmer Gantry meets Dances with Wolves--in other words, substantively nothing but mesmerizing nonetheless. "The most vulnerable part of the Earth's environment is the very thin layer of air clinging near the surface of the planet," he intoned. "We are altering the relationship between the Earth and the Sun" (the moon and the stars!). Changing our behavior will require "humility because the spiritual roots of our crisis are pridefulness.....Our children's children will read about the 'Spirit of Kyoto' and remember well the place and time where humankind first chose to embark together on a long-term sustainable relationship between our civilization and the Earth's environment."
Gore wrapped it up by comparing those opposing this Kyoto tent meeting to shills for the Tobacco Institute, a line still guaranteed to have most of the delegates, and not a few of the reporters, down on their knees, with their hands in the air, shouting "Hallelujah!" We would only comment that, as in Elmer Gantry, assuming that position is very useful for those intent on going through your pockets.
So, at conference end, with Undersecretary of State Stu Eisenstat, leader of the U.S. delegation, proclaiming "The eyes of the world are upon us!" (Now which film was that?), who won and who lost? Well, the Third World won; they agreed to nothing. The European Union won; they've already achieved most of their emissions rollback by shutting down dirty East German industries and closing British coal mines and, according to Finnish TV, plan to make up any shortfall by backdooring electricity through Poland, an exempt country. Norway, Iceland, and Australia won. Though not generally thought of as "developing countries," these three get to increase emissions. The United States and Japan, with national bureaucracies in the grip of Mother Earth fanatics, lost.
Here at home, the U.S. media, ever susceptible to packaged information--and some Kyoto observers were astonished at the huge sums Big Environment spent on packaging information--did their best to sell the deal to the American public, calling it "modest" and "conservative." Tim Lamer notes in a Media Research Center report on network coverage ("Media Reality Check: Imposing an Energy Crisis Without Debate," Dec. 12) that climate scientists skeptical of global warming were largely missing from news reports. In 16 of the 19 stories broadcast between December 1 and December 11, reporters simply assumed that the talks had broad scientific support.
Meanwhile, at the Annual Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, held last week in San Francisco, California, research papers were presented that throw cold water on two of the mainstays of global warming hysteria. First, Harry Lins and James Slack of the U.S. Geological Survey reported that despite devastating floods in recent years--most notably in the upper Great Plains, California's Central Valley, and along the Mississippi River--a review of records dating back to 1914 shows no increase in either the frequency of floods or their size. "We do not see any evidence of a change in large-scale national patterns," says Lins. What may have changed, the researchers note, is development along flood-prone rivers. (Precisely!) Second, climate modeler Joyce Penner of the University of Michigan, a noted contributor to the IPCC report, announced that new research on aerosols suggest that the 1 degree fahrenheit warming of the last century may be entirely due to natural variability and not--yet--to human activity.
Finally, to end on an even more positive note, a CNN survey, announced last week, shows that despite all the hoopla there are fewer Americans concerned about global warming in 1997 (24 percent) than there were in 1989 (35 percent), a result that appears to support the recent New York Times survey showing that only 1 percent of Americans thought environment was the most pressing concern for America, and only 7 percent thought global warming was a problem at all.
So as we look ahead to next November's global warming talks in Buenos Aires, where the thermostats will be set at 80 degrees fahrenheit and organizers will be passing out hand-held fans printed with "Smart Life with Energy Saving," let's review three points that mysteriously disappeared from the 1996 IPCC report, Chapter 8, sometime between approval of the draft and publication:
1. "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."
2. "No study to date has positively attributed all or part [of the climate change observed to date] to anthropogenic [man-made] causes."
3. "Any claims of positive detection of significant climate change are likely to remain controversial until uncertainties in the total natural variability of the climate system are reduced."
Until next week.