This month Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s Blue Ribbon Advisory Council on Climate Change released a report that argues we face a bleak, hot future. The report could have been improved by including the latest scientific developments and other important data. Instead, those omissions raise questions about the report's value as a guide to policy.
The Blue Ribbon Advisory Council's report states that "11 of the last 12 years have been the warmest since 1850." This statement would lead the reader to assume that 11 of the last 12 years in the United States have been some of the hottest ever recorded, but that would be wrong.
According to NASA's own temperature record for the United States, only three of the past 12 years are among the warmest. Both 1998 and 2006 were very warm years, but the hottest year of the past 150 years was 1934. It is also curious that the United States, with the longest, most comprehensive temperature record in the world, does not show nearly as much warming as other areas of the world.
The report goes on to claim that sea-level rise is consistent with human-caused global warming, a claim not supported by the latest evidence. Sea level has indeed increased and has been increasing for the past 10,000 years since the retreat of the glaciers at the end of the last ice age. The problem for the report is that during the period that humans have supposedly caused sea levels to rise, the rate of sea-level rise has been decreasing.
If rising sea levels are indeed driven by increasing levels of carbon dioxide, the rate of sea-level rise should also be increasing. In a recent paper, Dr. Simon Holgate of the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory examined the highest quality, long-term sea-level records. He found that the data from the most accurate sea-level gauges show the rate of sea-level rise has actually decreased, not increased, suggesting that human activities are not driving sea-level rise.
Gov. Huntsman's Blue Ribbon Advisory Council also claims that "Antarctic ice sheets are decreasing in size." This claim is both right and wrong. Parts of Antarctica are gaining ice and parts are losing ice. This isn't necessarily surprising when you consider the size of Antarctica. It is, after all, nearly 1.5 times the size of the United States.
When we see pictures of Antarctica losing ice, we are shown pictures from the Antarctic Peninsula. Along the Antarctic Peninsula temperatures have increased, and the ice pack has, indeed, decreased. But the peninsula is one small part of the Antarctic continent. Multiple studies, such as one led by Dr. Curt Davis of the University of Missouri-Columbia and another led by Dr. Duncan Wingham of the University College London, show that when the rest of the continent is examined, it appears that Antarctica as a whole is gaining ice, not losing it.
The report also concludes that increasing greenhouse gas emissions "will likely result" in reduced snowpack and threat of drought. This is a curious finding since the report also states that "clear and robust long-term snowpack trends have yet to emerge in Utah's mountains." In other words, there are no actual data showing decreasing snowpack or precipitation, but the report assumes there will be. The truth is that computer models are not good enough to predict if the future holds more or less snowfall or more or less drought.To make good policy we need good information, but the Governor's Blue Ribbon Advisory Council's report provides neither. To assume something without evidence is not science, it is conjecture.
Daniel R. Simmons is the director of the Natural Resources Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council in Washington, D.C.