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Icing the global warming debate

Icing the global warming debate

I was down in Malta recently, doing some reporting, holed up in some comfortable digs on a few acres of beachfront and figuring I was living pretty large.

Let me tell you, it was a pretty fine evening. The sun was dipping past the Malta horizon, a fiery shade slightly lighter than the restaurant's overpriced wine that had me in that mellow mood that makes the world seem like a really nice place no matter the state of international affairs. But despite how green your own patch of grass appears, there's always a spoilsport to come along and show off an even deeper shade across the pasture fence.

Here I was, feeling good about my career choices and taste in wine, when I arrived back at my room and flipped on the news. Just settling into an interview was a woman whose work is telling us just how close we are to being annihilated.

The more she talked, the more I realized that this lady has landed herself one plum of a job. I sat on the edge of the bed and thought, "there's a gig I could handle!"

Give yourself over to some serious fretting about the ills of the world, consult a few "experts" and then appear on TV to announce that you are moving the minute hand on the Doomsday Clock!

Take out the trash? Sorry, honey, got to scoot down to the office and wind the clock a little closer to midnight. Some dodgy goings-on in North Korea today.

My enthusiasm for her work was short-lived, though. Nuclear threats, it seems, are so last year. Now the clock has to be nudged closer to zero hour by everybody's pet grievance-global warming. And the timekeeper informed us that, like the potential for nuclear war, all this warming is a man-made problem .

With no gumption for blaming myself or my friends for global warming, I gave up on the idea of running the doomsday clock. You can hardly blame the clock folks; any group that can find a way to tie global warming into their agenda can count on publicity. To put it on par with the threat of nuclear war is just one of a boatload of dire hand-wringings. The media outlets love it. Blogs, chat rooms and Internet forums shout it from every high speed connection.

A couple of weeks ago, a study by the Royal United Services Institute at their "Climate Change—The Global Security Impact" conference, suggested that global warming could increase terrorism.

Granted, warm winter weather has caused some problems. For a while, no one was showing up at some European resorts to have a go at muddy ski runs. Livelihoods also have been hurt in other unseasonably warm places. But a less-mentioned problem is the hijacking of the global warming issue by politicians, businesses, environmental groups and others who have found ways to use it to gain publicity, power or potential profits.

Global warming as a social issue took off a few years ago when Al Gore emerged bearded and blinking from whatever dark refuge he had taken after losing the 2000 U.S. presidential election. Where he developed his expertise on the matter isn't too clear, but he wrote a book and made a movie, so that pretty well established his credibility in many people's minds. Soon enough, the term "climate change" came into vogue, presumably because record snowfall in places like Colorado couldn't be blamed on warming. And, we're all now branded with a "carbon footprint."

Politicians have realized the value of embracing an issue that is a slam-dunk with voters. Businesses are churning out philosophies for dealing with climate change lest they fall behind their more-conscientious competitors. Environmental groups must be singing halleluiahs over the frenzy the issue has created.

Meanwhile, any science that so much as hints that global warming is the result, even partly, of the earth's natural rhythms is pooh-poohed.

And, no one would dare suggest that there might actually be some positive effects of global warming. If it's warmer, aren't we burning less fuel to heat our homes and offices? Are there any employers out there—particularly in the United States—where health care costs are a plague on the land, who would like to admit that they are grateful when a warm winter weekend has their employees outside getting some exercise instead of eating cakes in front of the television?

The real threat here is that whatever problems might exist because of climate change are in danger of being overshadowed by the overblown hype that has followed. It's becoming trendy to spout the dangers of global warming, but a waste of time to attempt a rebuttal.

So what will it take to ice the debate, or at least chill it to a more reasonable temperature? A couple of long cold winters might cool the hysteria. Whether it's enough to move the minute hand backwards, only time will tell.