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Summer Heat is Normal, Not Proof of "Global Warming"

 

DATE: August 4, 2005

BACKGROUND: We're now in the throes of usual summer heat waves and forest fires and, once again, environmentalists are blaming global warming.  The Earth Times wrote, "The United States from New York to New Mexico reeled under a searing heat wave, even as President Bush refused to acquiesce the urgency of global warming..."  A New York editorialist wrote, “Here in New York, the statewide average for the month of June was 5.5 degrees higher than normal.  Summer records have been smashed up and down the Eastern seaboard…” while failing to volunteer that the source of his data, the National Climatic Data Center, also said “it was a cooler than average spring in much of the eastern U.S.”  A Florida meteorologist told the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel that global warming might be a factor causing Florida’s "high heat. "

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: If only the weather could be as easy to predict as the behavior of the global warming lobby.  We're now in the throes of usual mid-summer heat waves and forest fires and - it should come as no surprise - adherents to the global warming theory are again placing the blame on squarely on global warming.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: There are two major problems with the assertion that this year's heat waves are evidence of human-induced global warming.  First, local weather events tell us little about global temperatures.  Because it is very warm in one particular spot on one particular day does not mean the entire planet is overheating.  NASA's Tiros series of satellites as well as weather balloon measurements show little to no warming since 1979.  Surface measurements show only a modest increase in global temperatures.  The second and more obvious problem with these claims is that the current heat waves are neither unusual nor record-breaking.

DISCUSSION:

An CBS News meteorologist exclaimed, "We have so much heat across such a large portion of the country - even Las Vegas last week got to 117 degrees - all these temperatures which are above normal in many spots...  some... will say it is global warming..."

Even Las Vegas got to 117 degrees?  Please.  To hear this guy talk, you'd think that the Nevada desert was known for mild summertime temperatures.  The 117 degrees isn't even close to a record for Nevada.  That was hit more than a decade ago - when we burned less fossil fuel than today - at 125 degrees.

There are two major problems with the assertion that this year's heat waves are evidence of human-induced global warming.

First, local weather events tell us little about global temperatures.  Because it is very warm in one particular spot on one particular day does not mean the entire planet is overheating.  NASA's Tiros series of satellites as well as weather balloon measurements show little to no warming since 1979.  Surface measurements show only a modest increase in global temperatures.

The second and more obvious problem with these claims is that the current heat waves are neither unusual nor record-breaking.

Temperatures of 103 degrees in Salt Lake City, 129 degrees in Death Valley, 90 degree plus temperatures in Los Angeles and 104 degrees in Little Rock were reported in the news media as though they were cause for panic.

None of those temperatures set records.  Salt Lake City broke 107 degrees on July 26, 1960; Death Valley hit a record-setting 134 degrees on July 10, 1913; Los Angeles hit a record high of 109 degrees on July 12, 1891 capping off an extended heat wave; and Little Rock established its record of 112 degrees on July 31, 1986.  If any period can be considered the United States' hottest, look at the 1930s.  During that decade, 25 states established record highs - 15 of them in 1936 alone.

As for wildfires, they should not be cause for alarm, either, as they are also part of the normal summer season. 

So far this year, over 4.5 million acres have been affected by fire - a modest amount by historical standards.  In 1924, we lost 28.8 million acres of land to fires - not including fires in national parks and on Indian reservations.  More than 26 million acres burned in 1923 and again in 1925.

Since the 1920s, wildfires have been on the decline.  The average number of acres burned has fallen from 12.4 million per year during the 1920s, to 3.9 million in the 1930s, 2.6 million acres in the 1960s and just 2 million acres during the 1980s.  Over the past ten years, an average of 2.6 million acres have burned.  This overall decline has occurred at the very time our use of fossil fuels - said to be responsible for global warming - have increased dramatically.

Improved fire suppression capabilities, better forestry management techniques, forest fire prevention education programs such as "Smokey Bear" and the "Dixie Rangers" (who traveled through Appalachia in the 1920s educating people on fire prevention), of course, all played a part in this success.

But the success has come despite an increasingly difficult job.  Fire prevention is more difficult today because of increasing fuel loads in our nation's forests.

Millions of acres of forests throughout the United States are virtually tinderboxes, in need of thinning, prescribed burns and logging.  The situation is, not surprisingly, exacerbated during the hot summer months.  You can blame a higher fire risk on environmental groups that have shut down much of our forests to logging, not on global warming.

Mark Twain once said: "Everybody talks about the weather but no one ever does anything about it."  It was funny because everyone recognized that humans are powerless to do anything about the weather.

Some environmentalists obviously still don't get the joke.


by David Ridenour

Contact the author at: 202-543-4110

The National Center for Public Policy Research
501 Capitol Court, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002


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