Longtime WCCO-TV meteorologist Mike Fairbourne says that the environmental movement is practicing "squishy science" when it ties human activity to global warming.

Fairbourne's assessment Monday came on the same day that the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine appeared before the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and announced that it has the signatures of more than 31,000 scientists -- including Fairbourne's -- who agree that the human impact on global warming is overblown.

Fairbourne, who joined WCCO in 1977 and has been a meteorologist for 40 years, said that while there is no doubt that "there has been some warming" of global temperatures in recent years ... there is still a pretty big question mark" about how much of that warming is from human activity.

"Do we need to be wise stewards [of the Earth]? Absolutely," Fairbourne said. "Do we have to pin everything that happens on global warming? No, we need to have cooler heads."

Fairbourne said he signed the institute's petition about five years ago. The group said that hundreds of meteorologists are among the signees.

The petition says:
"We urge the United States government to reject the global warming agreement that was written in Kyoto ... and any other similar proposals. The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.

"There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate.

"Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth."
The institute and its petition have been widely challenged over the years by numerous mainstream scientific voices. For example, the National Academy of Sciences has rejected the petition's contentions, saying that "greenhouse warming poses a potential threat sufficient to merit prompt responses. Investment in mitigation measures acts as insurance protection against the great uncertainties and the possibility of dramatic surprises."

Fairbourne, a University of Utah graduate, said he has talked "to a number of meteorologists who have similar opinions" as his, adding that he is concerned about "the extremism that is attached to the global warming."

He noted that in the 1970s "we were screaming about global cooling. It makes me nervous when we pin a few warm years on squishy science."

As for the melting polar ice caps, Fairbourne said there are "other things going on -- ocean currents, changes in salinity -- other things not related to carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere."

Asked why there has been so much momentum toward connecting human activity and global warming, Fairbourne said, "They're doing it for a lot of reasons; some may be scientific, but most of them are political. We need to be calm and look at scientific evidence and evaluate it."

Paul Douglas, Dave Dahl

Fairbourne is at odds with the American Meteorological Society's position. In a paper issued last year, the society said, "Strong observational evidence and results from modeling studies indicate that, at least over the last 50 years, human activities are a major contributor to climate change."

Also, recent writings by Paul Douglas, Fairbourne's WCCO colleague for many years until Douglas was let go earlier this year, appear to have the two on opposite sides.

In his daily Star Tribune weather report on March 16, Douglas scoffed at the notion that global warming is a hoax, as labeled recently by San Diego TV meteorologist and Weather Channel founder John Coleman. Douglas wrote that while he has "great respect for Mr. Coleman as a visionary and entrepreneur ... his business skills do not necessarily make him a good arbiter of climate science."

Another Twin Cities meteorologist, Dave Dahl of KSTP-TV, Channel 5, shares a kindred global warming spirit with Fairbourne.

Dahl, in his regular afternoon weather spots on KSTP Radio (AM 1500), reads the record high and low for the day, illustrating extreme temperatures that are often many decades old. "More proof of global warming,'' radio host Joe Soucheray typically responds with sarcasm. Then Dahl chimes in with an affirming comment, such as "crazy" or "you got it, Joe."

Meanwhile, the presidential campaign finds little difference among the three candidates on the "yes there is, no there isn't debate" regarding humans and global warming. All three agree that mandatory restrictions on greenhouse gases are needed. Also, an increasing number of businesses and religious leaders are acknowledging the need to address global warming.