The December 1989 issue of Forbes Magazine manifested a fear that I have been discussing in any forum possible for the last few years.
A brilliant red cover provides a backdrop to the captions, "The Global Warming Panic", "A Classic Case of Overreaction." This major business magazine presents an article that is well researched and focuses directly upon the major flaws in the argument about global warming as a result of the greenhouse effect.
It is an article that provides those in the business community who want it with all the ammunition they need to combat the pressure to change that is building from the political arena. Just when we were starting to convince the public and thereby the politicians that environmental problems need serious and longterm attention, we are likely to lose ground.
The major cause of the dilemma now facing us is that some scientists made public statements that cannot be supported scientifically. The media then took these statements and amplified the errors, and in doing so converted them to "truths". Now we have the problem that many of the claims about environmental damage and change do not bear scrutiny. A credibility gap is in danger of widening, to the detriment of efforts to establish policies. At the very time that sustainable development has become politically acceptable, supporters of the traditional definition of development as unbridled growth are being given comfort.
It is a feature of the 1980s that it is becoming almost impossible to have rational discussions about many issues without hysteria, emotionalism and irrationality taking over. Many issues demand action, but it is essential that clear and factual information be available before acting. The urgency is simply not that great that we cannot establish priorities.
The challenge for political leaders is enormous. They are beset by those who tell them the world environment is doomed. Some, such as David Suzuki, set a time limit for action of ten years. The media focus upon the extreme positions and select points that are dramatic. The public are thus given false impressions; in some cases incorrect information.
To add to their problems, politicians are given information by scientists who argue a singular view of a problem. As specialists, they are not usually familiar with the research being done in other disciplines. Nowhere is this more problematic than in climate and climate change.
The November 1989 issue of Scientific American expresses the problem in its section on Science and the Citizen, entitled "Not so Hot.":
When editors and newscasters routinely bandy about the term "global warming" without bothering to explain it, then the idea could be said to have entered the body of public knowledge, accepted by most as immutable fact. Yet the public's acceptance of global warming caused by the greenhouse effect belies the fluid nature of the science. The conclusion that the build-up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases might lead to catastrophic warming of the earth's climate continues to generate debate among scientists. As investigators refine the computer models on which global climate projections are based, some estimates of probable warming are being lowered. Moreover, new data suggest that human activity may influence the climate in ways that have previously been neglected.
Many people, including environmentalists, do not understand the mechanisms of climate, and react emotionally. Few people understand what the greenhouse effect, the ozone layer of many other aspects of the physical environment are, or how they work. The result is that many discussions about these topics are discussions in ignorance; they tend to achieve nothing except the creation of more confusion and fear.
The greenhouse effect is a major example of the …