Climate Change: Insights from Oceanography


Full Briefing available in PDF format.



The global warming establishment asserts that the science underlying the Kyoto Protocol is “settled,” that the “consensus of scientists” has spoken, and that all the rest of us need do is get on with the business of saving the planet.


The Competitive Enterprise Institute respectfully disagrees. “Consensus” is a term of politics rather than of science, and nothing could be less “settled” that climate science, which is still in its infancy. Hypotheses, even elaborate hypotheses like the computer models underpinning the Kyoto Protocol, have no scientific standing until they have survived repeated confrontation with the facts. In science, the only test of truth is experiment, or at the very least, observation – empirical data.


What do real-world observations tell us about the global warming hypothesis? That question might be called the “central organizing principle” of the lecture series the Competitive Enterprise Institute has been running on behalf of the Cooler Heads Coalition.


How fitting, therefore, that Dr. Roger Pocklington of the Bermuda Biological Station for Research, an oceanographer who has monitored North Atlantic climate conditions for over a quarter century, delivered the first Cooler Heads science lecture on climate change on May 22, 1998. Herewith a few highlights from Dr. Pocklington’s lecture:


• Analysis of surface-air and sea-surface temperatures in and around the northern Atlantic Ocean shows that the region has been cooling, not warming, during the past 50 years.


• Such warming as has occurred since the 19th century is not outside the natural range of climate variation.


• Dr. Wallace Broecker’s disaster scenario is interesting but highly speculative. Broecker projects that global warming would increase rainfall and river discharge into the North Atlantic. That would lower surface water density (fresh water is less dense than salt water). The lower density surface water would not sink, and so would not “pull” warm surface water from the Equator up towards Europe. The paradoxical result: global warming would plunge Europe into another Ice Age! Dr. Pocklington points out, however, that Broecker assumes a 50 percent increase in precipitation and increasing wetness in Central Asia and North America (where river flow into the North Atlantic originates). Yet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects only a 5-10 percent increase in North Atlantic precipitation and predicts that Central Asia and North America will become more arid. Broecker presents as almost likely something that has very little probability of happening.


—Marlo Lewis

Vice President for Policy and Coalitions