Cap-and-trade, one of the most expansive government efforts to control the U.S. economy, requires Americans to make sacrifices based on assumptions underpinned by dubious data. These economic and scientific claims made by politicians and advocacy groups should undergo close scrutiny. Data used to justify policy changes, especially those as monumental as cap-and-trade, should be analyzed critically to ensure validity.

We are told by some government officials and many environmental groups that if we do not limit the use of energy by putting a cap on the amount that can be used to heat and cool our homes, run our factories and fuel our vehicles, the planet will continue to heat up and our major cities will be flooded by rising sea levels caused by melting ice caps and glaciers. Global warming alarmists are asking us to sacrifice economic prosperity through higher energy costs and even energy rationing for businesses and households because the earth is getter warmer and man must be causing the change.

Before we embrace this brave new world, we might want to examine a critical source of data that global warming advocates are using to base their claims — official U.S. weather stations' temperature readings. As it turns out, the U.S. surface temperature record is not reliable. The National Weather Service, a department of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, oversees a network of 1,221 climate monitoring stations nationwide. It is from these stations that national data on surface temperature has been derived for the last 100 years or so. Much has changed, however, in land use and development around those stations during the past century.

Anthony Watts, a 25-year broadcast meteorology veteran with the assistance of more than 650 volunteers, decided to visually inspect and photograph more than 860 of these stations. His findings are reported in "Is the U.S. Surface Temperature Record Reliable?" published this year by The Heartland Institute. The conclusion: "The U.S. temperature record is unreliable." They found stations located near exhaust fans, in asphalt parking lots, on hot roofs and near sidewalks and buildings that reflect heat. Remarkably, they found that 89 percent of official weather stations fail to meet the National Weather Service's own site location requirements that stations must be at least 100 feet away from an artificial heating or radiating/reflecting heat source.

Location of weather stations is not the only problem. Watts found that gaps in the data record from individual weather stations were filled in with data from nearby sites. His research found that errors in the record exceed by a wide margin the supposed rise in temperature of 1.2 degrees F reported for the 20th century.  

It seems we have not engaged in critical thinking in our rush to enact policy change that will affect the lives of every American. Perhaps the financially troubled media hasn't the time or resources necessary to research the facts. Maybe in this era of information overload the public is overwhelmed and cannot process complex issues. Some special interest groups certainly are not above spinning the data to bolster their particular cause. Whatever the case, the stakes are too high not to get it right. President Reagan had it right when he said, "trust but verify." We need to do a better job on the verify part or we will as a nation enact public policy that could lead to negative unintended consequences.

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Russ Harding is senior environmental analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.

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