|Southern Baptist Convention leader Richard Land apparently thought he had good reason for refusing to sign a recent statement by fellow Southern Baptists calling for action on global warming. He believes the Earth is getting colder.
On the March 1 broadcast of the radio show "Richard Land Live," the head of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission discussed media reports that average worldwide temperatures over the previous 12 months were cooler than the year before.
"Bad news for 'Spotted Al' Gore," Land said. "The planet is experiencing a cold spell, enough to eliminate the last hundred years of global warming."
Land said new data "flies in the face of many current thinkers" and predicted it would be "seized upon by climate-change skeptics who deny that the world is undergoing global warming."
"A lot of scientists who were on Al Gore's side five years ago have switched and are now saying that they underestimated, that their computer models were wrong, that they have reconfigured their computer models to deal with the shifting data, that it no longer says that we're going to have the global warming crisis that people have been telling us we're going to have," Land said. "The science is not near as settled as the closed minds of liberals and political leftists."
Land, who recently made headlines for applying a Yiddish curse word to a Democratic United States senator who is Jewish, had similarly harsh words for Gore, the former vice president and a fellow Baptist who received the Nobel Prize for increasing awareness about global warming in part through his Oscar-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth."
"A lot of this stuff that is being talked about with hysterical tones with global warming is quackery," Land said. "When I see Al Gore and I hear him talk, in the distant background I hear 'quack, quack, quack.' Not because a duck is drowning because there's no ice for him to sit on, but because this is pure quackery."
Land played a clip from Britt Hume's Feb. 28 "Political Grapevine" commentary quoting a California meteorologist as claiming the amount of cooling is "enough to erase nearly all of the global warming recorded over the past hundred years."
Hume's report cited an article on the Web site Daily Tech that quoted blogger Anthony Watts as compiling data to suggest January 2008 was an exceptional month--with a cooling value "large enough to erase nearly all the global warming recorded over the past 100 years."
Watts later clarified the statement about "erasure" was not his and said Daily Tech agreed to a correction. By then it had been picked up in the Drudge Report, leading to wider distribution including Hume's mistakenly attributing the quote to Watts Feb. 28 on Fox News.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported recently that temperatures across the contiguous United States this winter were the coolest since 2001. Though still above the average for the 20th century, it was the 54th coldest winter since national records began in 1895.
Globally the combined land and ocean surface temperature was still the 15th warmest on record in February. NOAA attributed cooler winter temperatures to a moderate-to-strong La Niña, cooler-than-normal ocean-water temperatures in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
According to NOAA, above-average temperatures were observed for February across Europe, in most of Russia, northwestern and southern parts of Africa, southern Chile and Argentina and the Eastern and South Central United States. Cooler-than-average conditions were present across China, northern India, western Alaska, the North Central states of the U.S., parts of central Africa, eastern and southern Australia and parts of the Middle East.
Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences at Princeton University, said climate changes experienced at any one place over a brief period like a season are a combination of natural climate variations plus the global trend.
"At this juncture, the long-term trend is bigger than the natural variation on a global basis but variations (or 'noise') may often be bigger for small areas," Oppenheimer said an e-mail to EthicsDaily.com. "So for instance, the fact that the long-term global trend is up doesn't mean that the Hunan area of China is going to be warming over a short period like one winter. Eventually, the trend will have totally overwhelmed local climate variations of this sort, but not yet."
Oppenheimer said it is "simply untrue" that a single cool winter has obliterated the global trend. "The global cooling this winter is only a fraction of the human-induced warming trend over the past century," he said. "The winter was still quite a bit warmer than the typical winter decades ago."
Oppenheimer also said it is untrue that large numbers of scientists are changing their minds about global warming. He said consensus is stronger than ever since last year's fourth assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and there is no dissent over the central aspects of global warming. "It is unequivocal that earth has warmed over the past century, it is very likely that humans are responsible for most of the warming of the past 50 years, and more warming is in store, until emissions of the greenhouse gases are reduced," he said.
Oppenheimer also disputed Land's claim that computer models used by scientists are flawed. "Climate models have performed well in reproducing the global average climate of the past century, so we have confidence in their ability to project changes in global temperature in the future," he said. "Furthermore, much other evidence, independent of the models, supports these projections, including evidence of the effect of natural changes in greenhouse gases on past climate that comes from ice cores, sediments, pollen and tree rings."
Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, said Land needs to get his facts straight.
"Richard's name calling and animal sounds are no substitute for real engagement of the issue," Parham said. "He would do well to engage real scientists rather than rely on secondary sources like Fox News that compounded an error by repeating it. We must always remember that untruth anywhere harms truth everywhere."
Land refused to join a group calling itself the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative urging the nation's second-largest faith group to get on board the fight against global warming, saying their statement was "at variance with the Convention's expressly stated positions."
Land's associate at the ERLC, Barrett Duke, was among 170 signers of an open letter last year endorsing a Cornwall Alliance declaration claiming that foreseeable global warming will not be catastrophic, that natural causes account for much or most of global warming and that reduction of greenhouse gases would have little impact on climate change.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com