On a sweltering June 24, 1988, NASA’s James Hansen testified before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He told the sweating senators, ‘’The first five months of 1988 are so warm globally that we conclude that 1988 will be the warmest year on record.” Hansen was right on, as a strong El Niño made 1988 one of the warmest global years in the 20th century.
Hansen went on to tell the committee that the higher temperatures could be attributed to a continuing global warming trend linked to human carbon-dioxide emissions. His testimony was replete with references to “warming,” and legislatures throughout the United States took heed, passing an array of expensive renewable-energy subsidies and mandates for wind, solar and biofuels.
On Jan. 28, 2014, with half of the United States gripped in near-record cold, President Obama’s State of the Union address included just a brief reference to “climate change,” with no use of the word “warming.” He called for more investments in solar energy, despite several recent large taxpayer losses in government-fostered solar-energy companies. Obama said the science predicting continued global temperature increases was “settled.” But during the 21st century, there has been no increase in global average temperatures.
The president expressed the position that recent storms and droughts were the result of climate change, even though there has been no recent increase in violent storms or droughts. Data from tree rings and other sources show that the American West has experienced several severe droughts, each lasting 20 to 30 years during the period since the last glacier melted.
Obama drew solid applause when he called for more early education, a higher minimum wage and government-backed science centers to improve our international competitive position. Not so solid is his appeal for continued multibillion-dollar government programs that sustain low-density renewable energies.
Obama repeated the call for U.S. energy independence made by every president since Richard Nixon. It’s also independence time for renewable energy.
Rolf E. Westgard is a geologist and a guest faculty member with the Lifelong Learning program at the University of Minnesota.