The heavy breathing over global warming is enough to terrify anyone.
Last week the Washington Post interviewed a 9-year-old who said the Earth is "just starting to fade away." In 20 years there will be "no oxygen" he said, and he'll be dead. The Post went on to say that "for many children and young adults, global warming is…defining their generation." How sad.
Thirty-six years of consumer reporting have taught me to be skeptical of environmental scares. Much of what the media scares us about turns out to be myths.
Watch "Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity" on a special edition of "20/20" Friday, May 4th at 10 p.m. EDT
But is the global warming crisis a myth? Read on.
Excerpts from "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity," coming out in paperback May 1. (Click here to buy "Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity").
MYTH: Global warming will cause huge disruptions in climate, more storms, and the coasts will flood! America must sign the Kyoto Treaty!
This has to be broken into four pieces.
MYTH No. 1: The Earth is warming!
TRUTH: The Earth is warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the global average surface temperature increased about 0.6 degrees Celsius over the 20th century.
MYTH No. 2: The Earth is warming because of us!
TRUTH: Maybe. The frantic media suggest it's all about us. But the IPCC only said it is likely that we have increased the warming.
Our climate has always undergone changes. Greenland was named Greenland because its coasts used to be very green. It's presumptuous to think humans' impact matters so much in comparison to the frightening geologic history of the earth. And who is to say that last year's temperature is the perfect optimum? Warmer may be better! More people die in cold waves than heat waves.
MYTH No. 3: There will be storms, flooded coasts and huge disruptions in climate!
TRUTH: There are always storms and floods. Will there be much bigger disruptions in climate? Probably not.
Schoolchildren I've interviewed were convinced that America is "dying" in a sea of pollution and that "cities will soon be under water!"
Lawyers from the Natural Resources Defense Council (another environmental group with more lawyers than scientists) warn that "sea levels will rise, flooding coastal areas. Heat waves will be more frequent and more intense. Droughts and wildfires will occur more often."
But many scientists laugh at the panic.
Dr. John Christy, professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Alabama at Huntsville said: "I remember as a college student at the first Earth Day being told it was a certainty that by the year 2000, the world would be starving and out of energy. Such doomsday prophecies grabbed headlines, but have proven to be completely false." "Similar pronouncements today about catastrophes due to human-induced climate change," he continued, "sound all too familiar and all too exaggerated to me as someone who actually produces and analyzes climate information."
The media, of course, like the exaggerated claims. Most are based on computer models that purport to predict future climates. But computer models are lousy at predicting climate because water vapor and cloud effects cause changes that computers fail to predict. In the mid-1970s, computer models told us we should prepare for global cooling.
Scientists tell reporters that computer models should "be viewed with great skepticism." Well, why aren't they?