Someday, school children will learn about the bustling metropolis once called New York City, crossroads to the world. But they won't be able to go there because it will be uninhabitable, as the New York City area has been on and off for much of its history. Just 12,000 years ago, it was bitterly cold and covered by an ice glacier that was miles high, habitable to only the hardiest microbes.
At other times in its geological history, it was at the top of a mountain. Tens of millions of years ago, it was at the bottom of a tropical sea that covered most of the earth. If geological history is any indicator and the human race survives that long, odds are pretty good that portions of the United States will be uninhabitable 10,000 years from now, no matter what legislation we pass.
An intellectual debate still rages among scientists in the pages of the world's most credible scientific journals over the full story of what caused the dramatic temperature changes in the earth's past. The battle is a scientific, not political, one. There are wildly divergent ideas and theories about what makes the planet warm and cool.
Most Americans have had no exposure to these ideas because the media suppresses news of studies that don't strictly conform to its global warming orthodoxy. The self-policing within the media on this issue is intense. Two years ago, a reporter -- whose name I won't reprint here -- was singled out for ridicule in the Columbia Journalism Review for daring to present two sides in a piece on global warming.
So it is quite something when a newspaper like USA Today actually admits that reputable scientists have published a credible study in the journal Nature Geoscience questioning whether the world's climate models, the ones used to predict global warming, are wrong.
Granted, USA Today didn't go so far as to actually publish this article in its print edition, as it did with other Nature Geoscience studies on subjects like lightning, hurricanes and asteroid collisions in the past year. But some editor did find the temerity to relegate it to the paper's Web site, which required a high level of intestinal fortitude in this era of widespread newspaper layoffs.
The piece, headlined "Could We Be Wrong About Global Warming?" would have fascinated readers of the print edition. My guess is that it was simply too controversial -- journalistically speaking -- to be given a wider airing in the actual paper.
According to the article, the study found that only about half of the warming that occurred during a natural climate change 55 million years ago can be explained by excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. No one knows what caused the remainder.
"In a nutshell, theoretical models cannot explain what we observe in the geological record," says oceanographer Gerald Dickens, study co-author and professor of earth science at Rice University. "There appears to be something fundamentally wrong with the way temperature and carbon are linked in climate models."
Here's what else the article said about the study:
"During the warming period, known as the 'Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum,' for unknown reasons, the amount of carbon in Earth's atmosphere rose rapidly. This makes the PETM one of the best ancient climate analogues for present-day Earth.
"As the levels of carbon increased, global surface temperatures also rose dramatically during the PETM. Average temperatures worldwide rose by around 13 degrees in the relatively short geological span of about 10,000 years.
"The conclusion, Dickens said, is that something other than carbon dioxide caused much of this ancient warming. 'Some feedback loop or other processes that aren't accounted for in these models -- the same ones used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for current best estimates of 21st century warming -- caused a substantial portion of the warming that occurred during the PETM.'"
Could that be going on today? The question is far from settled.
Scientific criticism of the IPCC's models, the ones the EPA recently used to conclude that man-caused global warming is threatening the country, is old news to those who have followed the rich scientific debate on this online. There have been dozens of studies and papers challenging the models that the public doesn't know about because they never see the light of day in the mainstream media.
Worse yet, journalists routinely make mistakes by cherry picking studies that fit the global warming mold. After Katrina, nearly all the big news outlets used a series of studies to proclaim that global warming had caused an increase in hurricane frequency and intensity despite numerous studies to the contrary and the warnings of well-respected scientists that the question wasn't settled.
It still isn't, and when the weight of scientific evidence became too great to ignore, the same media outlets were forced to print stories to the contrary, though most buried them.
The scientific community is having a rich debate about all aspects of global warming throughout the earth's history and what caused it. It's time the media let the American people in on it. USA Today took the first baby step last week. Good for them.