Longform

Global Warning

Page 5 of 10

When scientists accept money from the energy industry, he says, it's akin to scientists being "bought off" by the tobacco industry. Fortunately, he adds, "the majority don't get into the policy debate. We let the science speak for itself."

And Meehl doesn't need to look to his computer models to know that the science of climate and weather is an uncertain one. "I have a friend who's a farmer in Brighton," he says. "Last May, which was real dry, I asked him how his crops looked, and he said terrible.

"In June it rained a lot, and when I asked, he said they looked great...You just never know about the weather."

Forty miles to the north of the NCAR citadel, the building housing CSU's atmospheric-sciences department also sits on a hill--a rather plain little hill of dirt and grasses that overlooks a water-treatment plant and the wind tunnels of the engineering department. A half-mile to the west looms a manmade wall of rock that holds back the waters of Horsetooth Reservoir.

There is no user-friendly weather trail here, only a collection of satellite dishes--large and small--pointing toward the sky. The building itself is a squat square of cubicles piled on top of and beside each other. No guided tours are offered; there's not much to see, anyway, except for the cluttered offices of the scientist/professors who work here.

William Gray occupies one of those offices, along with a jumble of boxes containing papers that had been stored in the basement of his west Fort Collins home until it was flooded by this past summer's deluge. "They even blamed that on global warming," Gray says. He doesn't try to hide his disgust for scientists who tend to blame every weather aberration--from the Fort Collins and North Dakota floods to the impending El Nino phenomenon--on global warming.

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."

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Steve Jackson