Global Warming: Nature or Nurture?

by Kevin Van Cott
for Ludwig von Mises Institute

May 24, 2003

I'm wondering if the major media outlets reported on the following item. Maybe I just happened to miss it, but I have my doubts.

The June issue of Scientific American highlighted some research results out of Columbia University. Recently, Professor Richard Wilson published a peer-reviewed article in the journal Geophysical Research Letters where he reported the results of his studies on the amount of solar energy that our sun has been producing over the last 24 years. During this time period, the amount of energy the sun is producing has increased by 0.05% every 10 years.

Now that may not sound like much to anyone, but, as Prof. Wilson points out in his article, the cumulative effects of this trend could be significant. For example, if this trend had begun even earlier, say as little as about 100 years ago, it would account for a significant amount of the global warming that has become so important to both climatologists and environmentalists.

Prof. Wilson acknowledged that the whole story is not yet known, but his discoveries have shown that the mantra that has been chanted over and over in the media about how human activities are causing global warming needs to be re-evaluated.

It appears that the issue of global warming is a bit more complicated than those in the major media outlets and the environmentalist organizations would want us to believe. It also appears that our "fragile ecosystem" is a bit more robust than they would have us believe.

But I wouldn't count on hearing a report on this during the evening news. And I also wouldn't count on hearing any apologies from environmental groups such as the Sierra Club for their statements in the past ridiculing President Bush's decision to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol. And I haven't heard of any new statements from them welcoming more research into this interesting topic.

Maybe I just haven't looked hard enough, but again, I have my doubts. People in these organizations are rarely concerned with scientific integrity if it doesn't happen to favor their own agenda, and the data of Prof. Wilson are precisely what these groups do not want to even consider. Their raison d'être will disappear if it is shown that global warming is caused, not by a lack of nurture, but by the laws of physics that are embedded within the "genetics" of Mother Nature.

The lesson for us here is that we need to be very careful when we hear so-called experts from lobbying groups pontificate about "scientific facts." Sure, university professors are not completely impartial, but in the realm of the natural sciences, hard data cannot be disputed, and the peer review system is one of the best detectors of phony science.

The Bush administration should be commended for not making rash environmental and economic policy decisions before both sides of the story have been heard. Who will be the first to voice that "blasphemous" idea over the airwaves?


Kevin Van Cott teaches chemical engineering at Virginia Tech.


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