It’s been a great year but not a hot one. (According to weather satellite data. 1997 ranked well below the average of the last two decades.) Lots of environmental scares without scientific foundation, but the Kyoto climate treaty confab must take the spotlight when it comes to hype.

As the late Aaron Wildavsky put it so well: "Global warming is the mother of all environmental scares." It is certainly the most expensive – potentially. If the Kyoto Protocol for cutting carbon dioxide emissions and energy use were ever to be ratified by the U.S. Senate and enforced by the United Nations, there go U.S. jobs and prosperity – all because of the feverish imagination of environmental activists and some computer printouts that don’t relate to what’s really happening to the climate.

The climate-aerosol debacle

The U.N. science advisory group, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, is developing a big credibility problem. Its 1996 report, the basis of Kyoto, had to admit the rapid warming predicted by computer models was not occurring. So it hit on an explanation to account for the discrepancy: Sulfate aerosols, particles created from the burning of coal and other sulfur-containing substances, were supposed to reflect incident sunlight and create an offsetting cooling – making the models agree with observations that show no warming trend. Unfortunately, the details don’t match. The Southern Hemisphere, containing fewer aerosols, should be warming rapidly – but isn’t.

And now, the final blow has been dealt to the IPCC house of cards by Prof. Joyce Penner, an IPCC stalwart, among the first to incorporate aerosols into climate models. According to a Dec. 8 news release from the University of Michigan, her latest computer modeling suggests "the warming we’ve seen over the last hundred years may simply be due to natural variability" – not human activities, like energy generation.

The politicians in Kyoto will not be overjoyed to hear the news. Like good lawyers, they prefer to stipulate the science.

The specter of sea-level rise

First of all, sea level has been rising at average rate of about 7 inches per century for several centuries, and nobody knows why. But it is certainly not due to climate changes or any human influences.

The climate did warm sharply between 1900 and 1940, recovering from the previous cold centuries of the "Little Ice Age"; can we trace the effect of this warming on sea level? Many glaciers are still melting as a result of the higher temperatures compared with 100 years ago. Also, ocean water expanded, as most substances do when their temperature is raised. But the sea-level data taken during this period suggest both of these effects were overcome by an increased evaporation from the ocean surface, followed by more rain – which turned to ice over the polar regions and increased ice accumulation there. The net result: a transfer of water from the ocean to the polar ice caps and a slowing down of the ongoing sea-level rise.

There is a lesson to be learned here. Should the climate warm again – for any reason – it is likely to further depress sea-level rise.

The smog-skin cancer connection it is one of the ironies of pollution control that clearing the air of smog also permits more solar ultraviolet radiation to reach the ground. Smog may be bad for lungs – at least in high concentrations – but it also protects against UV, which causes basal and squamous-cell skin cancers. So cleaning up Los Angeles would raise skin-cancer rates there to the level of Palm Springs, Calif.

In 1997, the EPA decided to reduce urban ozone levels even further, claiming the health benefits would justify the rather large costs imposed on the average consumer. Except it forgot to figure in the "cost" of the additional skin cancers. It knows this, of course, but it also knows adding the skin-cancer cost would completely undermine its perverse goal of imposing ever-tighter air quality standards. You see, the EPA has repeatedly told Congress stopping the use of freon in air conditioners and refrigerators for the sake of stratospheric ozone-layer protection is worth S32 trillion (!)– all to keep UV from rising a few percent.

It’s those darn frogs again

Remember Prof. Andrew Blaustein of Oregon State University? Back In November 1993, when two Canadian scientists falsely claimed UV was steadily increasing, he blamed the disappearance of frogs and toads on ozone depletion and rising UV trends. But in response to a science reporter who pointed out there was no UV trend, Blausteln retreated: "Well, maybe it’s a fungus."

Now, he’s back, writing papers in the Proceedings of the August National Academy of Sciences, blaming UV for causing deformities in frogs – missing legs or missing digits. Except UV is still not increasing.

Global warning and spread of disease

The climate may not be heating up, but the rhetoric certainly is. A group of physicians is trying to turn global warming into a health problem, comparing the earth to a sick patient. Psychiatrist (yes!) Eric Chivian, director of the Harvard Medical School Center for Health and the Global Environment, organized a letter-writing campaign just before the Kyoto conference, claiming global warming will cause epidemics to rage out of control.

The same group was involved in the policy debate on nuclear weapons in the 1980s and is now looking for fashionable problems to get exercised about. Not surprisingly, they are reporting outbreaks of malaria and yellow fever in new places – even in the absence of observed warming. But the real experts from the centers for Disease Control have already concluded the spread of diseases depends mainly on poor public health care and on the human vector, based on rapidly growing worldwide travel. In the meantime, the World Health Organization has been told by its consultants to consider the banned insecticide DDT as a way to curb the 3 million deaths a year from malaria and other insect-borne diseases.

At the Kyoto conference, however, everything bad was blamed on global warming –even though it is not happening. The prize goes to the Japan Environmental Times "All the Earth News Without Fear or Favor) report that deadly Australian "red-tack" sliders were found by a factory worker in Osaka (which boasts an international airport). "Scientists attribute the first discovery of the species in Japan to the warmer climate." (Comment: Maybe the little beasts swim faster when the ocean is warmer. It’s a thought.)