Scientists tell us the Earth is 4-and-a-half billion years old, give or take a few hours. Earth Day, on the other hand, is 34 years old -- a newcomer in the cosmic scale of things. Yet every April 22, for the past 33 years, impassioned environmentalists come together to warn that our springtime days of spinning blithely through the galaxy are about to end.
Between hacky-sack games, enviro-moralists kick around the imminent apocalypse of global warming, brought on -- they're sure -- by the pollution of human industry and the mindless plunder of our shared heritage. This 34th Earth Day is likely to be no different.
But it ought to be.
Because the underlying scientific debate over climate change has shifted dramatically since last Earth Day. The most recent studies now cast major doubt on global warming itself -- the basis for all the gloom-and-doom predictions.
Specifically, two new arguments have emerged.
For over 15 years, the UN-based Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been the leading scientific proponent of global warming theory. But last year, two respected researchers have largely discredited the IPCC's global warming predictions.
IPCC scenarios are based on the assumption that increasing levels of carbon dioxide will eventually turn the Earth into a tropical greenhouse. But Ian Castles, an Australian statistician, and David Henderson, a British economist, revealed that the IPCC's estimates of future carbon dioxide emissions take off from flawed and vastly overstated economic projections.
As it turns out, over the years the IPCC has based its climate change models on simplistic estimates of GDP growth in various countries. Essentially, panel scientists have gotten away with using currency exchange rates -- a value in U.S. dollars -- to predict and total a projected output for the world's disparate economies.
Of course, this produces results which favor the panel's perhaps preordained conclusions. But the researchers point out that the sleight-of-hand substitution is invalid. Serious scientific economists use "purchasing power parity" (PPP) to compare and project national economies.
PPP is the accepted method used by the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the United Nations. But by ignoring purchasing power parity, the IPCC was able to project hyper-inflated levels of economic growth -- and consequently carbon emissions -- in the developing world.
The resulting projections are frankly absurd. Playing the IPCC's own number game, by the end of this century, the per capita income of South Africans will be four times higher than that of Americans. North Koreans, Libyans, Algerians and Argentines will also have higher real per capita incomes than the United States. Except for "proving" global warming, the IPCC method just doesn't work. It's an obvious distortion.
In 2003, not only were IPCC's growth estimates fundamentally discredited, but global warming theory itself has just about fallen off its foundation.
"Scientific" proponents of global warming now base much of their case on a 1998 study by climatologist Michael Mann purporting to show that Earth's temperatures were stable for a millennium, and then suddenly spiked in the late 1900s.
Mann's "hockey stick" graph of climate data shows world temperatures in the second half of the 20th century as the highest on record in the last 1,000 years.
Mann and his report achieved celebrity status despite the fact that, since its publication, it's been repeatedly contradicted by geologists who have discovered both a warm period and mini ice age over the past millennium. Nonetheless, Mann's "hockey stick" has become the single-most prominent graphic depiction -- and implied proof -- of global warming
But this October, Mann's theory was clobbered in peer review. A paper in the prestigious British journal Energy & Environment revealed Mann's original study to be rife with "collation errors ... obsolete data, incorrect calculation ... and other quality-control defects." And the beat goes on.
Two Canadian statisticians, Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, recalculated Mann's data with the corrections put in, and found that the late 20th century was not particularly warm after all. Indeed, they found that around the 1500s the world was warmer than it was in the 20th century. So much for industrialization as a sole and compelling cause.
So, in a nutshell, the leading scientific study supporting global warming has been thoroughly debunked. Even Nature magazine, which published Mann's original findings in 1998, is now reportedly reviewing Mann's underlying data.
So welcome to Earth Day, 2004. Not only has global warming theory all but evaporated, but the Earth -- and particularly the United States -- are in far better shape than eco-activists would have us believe. In fact, recent U.S. environmental trends have nearly all been positive.
Average vehicle emissions are dropping about 10 percent per year, as engines become increasingly clean and efficient. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that water quality is improving dramatically. And there has been a 55-percent decline in toxic chemical releases since 1988.
In short, we've been so successful in improving environmental quality in recent years that we should be celebrating, not despairing. So this Earth Day, don't worry, be happy.
Steven F. Hayward is resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute. He is the author of the Index of Leading Environmental Indicators, published each year on Earth Day.