The scathing, outraged tone that Charles Krauthammer uses to attack President Barack Obama’s climate plan (“Obama policy on warming irresponsible,” July 5), might suggest the columnist knows what he’s talking about. Don’t be fooled. Krauthammer is making some basic distortions about climate science and the president’s proposals.
First, the meme that “global temperatures have been flat for 16 years” is untrue. It refers only to surface air temperatures, which would not show a smooth linear rise in any event, and ignores the earth’s oceans, where most (over 90 percent) of the warming from increased greenhouse gas concentrations is being absorbed (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/grl.50382/pdf).
We don’t feel this directly, but it is a major component of the earth’s climate system.
The implications of this are not comforting, unfortunately. Scientists expect that concentration of warming in the oceans is only temporary (http://www.livescience.com/28993-warming-ocean.html), and at some point will trigger an acceleration of surface air temperatures, which we will feel directly.
Krauthammer’s other major distortion involves the president’s proposal. Krauthammer doesn’t give specifics about that because the facts don’t justify his overheated rhetoric. The plan directs the EPA to develop rules for existing power plants (which generate about 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions). The president and EPA are legally required to do this under the Clean Air Act, in consultation with states and industry. The actual rules don’t exist yet, but that hasn’t stopped Krauthammer from screaming about “economic suicide” and a “war on coal.”
The more-problematic parts of the president’s proposal involve biofuels and fracking, both of which can have serious negative environmental impacts, but Krauthammer is silent about those. He fails a test of basic credibility on all fronts, including the ethical requirement not to mislead his readers. It seems appropriate that his column came out just as the World Meteorological Organization released a report stating that the past decade has been the warmest recorded since measurements began (http://library.wmo.int/pmb_ged/wmo_1119_en.pdf).