(Centennial Fellow) You can, on the one hand, listen to Bill McKibben, who says the raging Midwest and Southern tornadoes are still another sign of global warming doom. Or you can listen to Harold Camping, who recently announced the world would go kaput not too long after Christians were sent heavenward on May 21 by none other than God himself.
Take your luckless pick of either imaginative overreach. Although Camping's day of ascension came and went without most of us noticing physical uplift, there's not much boosting the McKibben thesis, either.
A leading voice of warming alarmism -- "warmism" some call it -- McKibben sounded off in a Washington Post opinion piece on the subject, contemptuously contending that warming is obviously linked to recent wildfire-causing, harvest-denying droughts, record rains, consequent flooding and the terrible tornadoes.
He identifies some who say we can adapt to warming as worried principally about the profits of fossil fuel producers.
Unfortunately for the ad hominem polemicist, an economist named Donald Boudreaux at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. bothered to check with the Weather Service. Despite a doubling of the population, weather-related U.S. fatalities have been declining over the past 70 years, he found.
Boudreaux, who reported the information in his Cafe Hayek Web site, along with a Camping comparison, gets debunking assistance from an article in Britain's Guardian. It quotes a meteorologist saying listings of tornadoes have been up over the years only because we have improved means of detecting and reporting them.
As for fatalities caused solely by tornadoes, John Hayward notes in a Human Events piece that there has been a half-century's decline in absolute numbers and a more dramatic drop as a percentage of population.
While this has, of course, been a particularly bad year for tornado fatalities, the worst in decades, Americans faced a number of awful years in cooler periods. Hayward notes the particularly atrocious accident of having a tornado pass through Joplin, Mo., instead of some undeveloped stretch of land. He reports analyses about having more large population centers for tornadoes to wander over than before and more old people who are less successful than the young in escaping the horror.
Tornado causes? Chief among them, cold air meets hot air, and no one has been able to show that warming fosters the get-together.
Maybe none of this is as conclusive a refutation of the McKibben assertion as an uneventful Rapture day was of the Camping message. But Dennis Prager of talk show fame observes in a column that secular leftists have made far more apocalyptic errors than religions, such as a 2005 U.N. prediction that we would have 50 million "climate refugees" by 2010. There were no Christians soaring in air May 21, but neither were there millions fleeing climate-cursed environments in 2010.
So how do you deal with all the missed climate forecasts, among them the computer simulations that make throwing darts blindfolded seem more scientific?
You heed Camping. After his prophecy went poof, the 89-year-old minister went on his California radio show, said there was a "spiritual" judgment May 21 and revealed the world would definitely conclude its business Oct. 21.
Likewise, the computer simulators are ever revising content to comply with past reality and telling us that if not all transpired exactly as they originally said, stay tuned. It will next time.
The moral of this tale is not that we should rule out the possibility of danger posed by global warming that may have been partly instigated by humankind, but that our ignorance is far greater than facile talk of a "scientific consensus" would have you believe. Wrong responses could be more disastrous than warming, with no effect on thermometers.
Many get it, I think, that a hard landing could await us if we leap before a lot more calm, careful, apolitical looking, and alarmists should understand that ranting about doomsday afflictions will bring few to this secular faith.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is now a columnist living in Colorado and a Centennial Institute Fellow.