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Global Warning

What do you get when greenhouse gases inspire greenhouse guesses? A heated argument--but not much scientific agreement.

Gray's acquaintance with global warming is a long, if intermittent, one. "I wrote a paper on it when I was in the sixth or seventh grade," he says. "That was back in the Forties, and there had been some heat waves. I don't even remember much about what I wrote--it was something I got out of Reader's Digest--and there was a war going on, so we had a lot else to be thinking about."

Gray's interest in weather was resurrected by the Korean War. When it looked like he might get drafted, he opted instead to join the Air Force, which wanted to send a few good men to school to become meteorologists. After that, Gray earned his master's and Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, in a department headed by Herbert Riehl. In 1960 Riehl founded the CSU Department of Atmospheric Sciences; a year later, he invited his protege to work for him.

Tall, white-haired and warm as the coffee he insists on making for visitors, Gray concedes he isn't the sort to change his opinions quickly. "I've been in this same office for thirty years," he says, "married to the same woman for forty years and in the same house for 32 years. Guess I'm not going anywhere."

Gray, whose official specialty is hurricanes and understanding the cycles of the oceans, admits his interest in global warming "is more of a hobby...a response to all this foolishness. For more than forty years I've been training as a meteorologist, and I felt obligated to say something when I felt that something was not right."

It isn't politically correct to question the global-warming theory, Gray cautions: "If you do, then you're 'against the environment.' If you question them, you're a 'naysayer' or a 'dissident,' or a 'contrarian,' when this is really a question of good science or bad science and what we base our decisions on."

Digging through a collection of stories describing potential global-warming disasters, he finds one that says the world's scientists have reached a consensus about the peril. "That's unprecedented," he says angrily. "Most people I know are skeptical as hell. They have all these so-called experts who aren't even in this field and don't understand the atmosphere very well, and yet they think they can make all these predictions.

"They get some Nobel Prize physicist commenting on the atmosphere...which would be like me talking about whether a nuclear accelerator should be built. I don't know about that, and neither do they know anything about how the atmosphere works--except what they've been told."

Gray's main argument is with the computer climate modelers, who "don't like me very much," he says. Although he has no problem with using computers to make five-day forecasts, "it's an outrage for them to say they can predict the future," he insists. "They haven't been able to get the past record right, or even very far in the future. But they'll talk about a hundred years down the road, 'cause nobody can prove them wrong."

As an example, Gray points to what he calls the "water vapor feedback loop." When scientists talk about global warming, they usually point to carbon dioxide as the most worrisome greenhouse gas. But that's just true in a roundabout way, Gray says.

Doubling the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would raise the temperature only minimally in and of itself, he points out; predictions of large temperature increases of several degrees and more are based on the idea that the increased carbon dioxide will cause more water vapor--actually the major greenhouse gas--because of evaporation.

Only when computer modelers factor in water vapor as a gas that holds heat, rather than letting it escape into space, do they come up with the major warming scenarios. According to Gray, though, there's evidence that water vapor also shields the planet from sunlight, radiating that energy back into space. "It is my contention that there is no positive feedback," he says. The increase in water vapor, which holds in some heat but blocks out sunlight, effectively cancels itself out--which, he suggests, also cancels many of the global-warming predictions.

Gray has other criticisms of global warming's proponents. Modelers don't understand how the oceans work with the atmosphere, he says, and haven't been plugging the oceans' effects on cooling and heating into their equations accurately. As a result, much of what scientists are saying about global warming's impact on the number and ferocity of hurricanes is demonstrably wrong.

Although there were several particularly violent hurricanes in 1995, "there were many more hurricanes, of greater intensity, in the 1950s and 1960s," Gray points out. "They rarely note that because it doesn't fit their scenario. To the public it seems like hurricanes have gotten worse, but that's because there are more people and development in coastal areas."

As the discussion of global warming heats up, though, science often gets left behind. Gray says he's "outraged" that proponents of the theory claim their critics have been "paid off" by energy companies. Although some scientists have accepted energy-company money, those scientists were already questioning the global-warming research. "The money isn't much," he says, "$20,000 or something, which after taxes is what? $13,000. Who would sell their soul for that?

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