The Skeptic

Celebrated and shunned, CSU's Bill Gray is taking heat in the global-warming debate.

By Gray's estimates -- which discount water-vapor feedback and other amplifying forces at work in most global-warming scenarios -- a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will only result in a slight increase in global temperature, along the lines of .15 to .2 degrees Centigrade. That's two-tenths of a degree, not the two-to-five-degree range that the models have been projecting. But what if he's wrong?

"There's nothing we can do about it anyway," he says. "We're not going to stop burning fossil fuels. China and India aren't going to stop. The little amount you might be able to cut out is negligible, and it's going to hurt the middle class."

Gore, of course, contends that it's possible to reduce carbon emissions drastically and create jobs at the same time.

Meanwhile, the evidence of man's impact on the climate continues to mount. Last week, the National Research Council released a report confirming earlier studies that indicate the last quarter-century was the hottest period on Earth in 400 years -- and possibly in the last thousand years.

The June 27 issue of Geophysical Research Lettersfeatures a new analysis by NCAR's Trenberth and Dennis Shea of worldwide sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) since the early twentieth century. By separating out natural phenomena from the temperature rise associated with man-made activities, Shea and Trenberth calculate that global warming accounts for roughly half the 1.7-degree Fahrenheit rise in average SSTs in the tropical Atlantic since 1970. In other words, while natural cycles contribute to variation in temperature, man's influence is now seen as a significant force that "increases the risk of future enhancements in hurricane activity," Trenberth says.

The paper will doubtless touch off a wave of critiques and responses, many of them from the record number of researchers who submitted hurricane-related papers to AMS conferences this years. NCAR's Holland says the explosion of interest in tropical storms has been good for the field. "At the scientific level, skepticism is part of the process," he notes. "The process wouldn't work if we didn't have that."

Holland says he's eagerly awaiting Gray's first peer-reviewed contribution to the discussion. Gray says he's working on it. But he'll have to rein in his usual rhetoric; his incendiary style may have as much to do with his pariah status as with his contrarian ideas. Even Klotzbach, who praises his prof's "historical perspective" and vast knowledge, acknowledges that his outspokenness can pose problems.

"I do try to get him to tone it down a bit," he says. "Whenever I go away, I tell the secretary not to let him send anything out until I get back."

But Gray has reasons to be impatient. "I feel the Grim Reaper chasing me," he says. "You have no idea how I've been working on this."

Gray expects the globe to start showing signs of a cooling trend in the next few years, and he hopes to be around to see the results of his forecast. "When I am pushing up daisies, I am very sure that we will find that humans have warmed the globe slightly, but that it's nothing like what they're saying," he predicts. "I just don't want to die and leave all these loose ends."

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