AS YOU CHILL OUT IN YOUR TV CHAIR, WATCHING THE Winter Olympics from Nagano, Japan, think a moment about Kyoto, not far away, and what the climate change treaty might have in store.
On Jan. 8, federal climatologist Tom Karl announced that 1997 was the warmest year on record, with thermometer readings exceeding the mean (1961-90) by 0.42 degrees centigrade (0.75 degrees Fahrenheit). Writing in his World Climate Report, editor Patrick J. Michaels took Karl to task for reporting only half the story. Michaels, a professor at the University of Virginia, and the brother of frequent Fortnightly contributor Robert Michaels (the economist from Cal-State Fullerton), said Karl's report erred by combining land-based data with readings from ocean buoys designed to monitor El Niño, whereas satellite readings are more reliable, and show no consistent warming.
But Wait. There's More.
In the same issue, Robert C. Balling (Ph.D., Arizona State University) predicts boom times for soybean farmers. Citing studies from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, and the United Kingdom Meteorological Office, Balling says that the combined effects of climate change and higher concentrations of atmospheric carbon-dioxide could boost soybean yields in Iowa 20 to 30 percent.
Along a similar vein, Balling cites a 1996 study by Y. Xue and J. Shukla (Journal of Climate, Vol. 9, 3260-3275): "[T]hey showed that increasing plant growth in the drylands could promote local precipitation, further acting to cool the surface and near-surface conditions."