THE LATEST data on global warming should thin the ranks of those who deny the evidence for climate change. The data were produced by an independent panel organized by the National Academy of Sciences and thus have the advantage of not coming from government experts whom skeptics of global warming apparently distrust. Moreover, the report addresses directly a favorite contention of the skeptics: that the lack of atmospheric warming casts doubt on the seriousness of warming at the earth's surface.
The panel confirmed that the atmosphere shows little sign of getting hotter; but then it asked, so what? The atmospheric trends do not alter the evidence for surface warming, which the panel put at between 0.7 and 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century and a remarkable 0.5 of a degree since 1979. John Christy of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, a panel member who has disputed the evidence for global warming, concurred with these findings, although he added that we cannot know whether the recent warming trends will be sustained.
Until different scientific evidence emerges, that statement of the future's unpredictability is the only claim that skeptics should be allowed to get away with; denials that warming has happened are just plain wrong. And though the future is always uncertain, it seems absurd to base policy on a hope that current trends suddenly will reverse themselves. Some kind of action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is urgent.
Last year the administration battled Congress into appropriating $1.1 billion for research into clean technologies and tax breaks for clean products. This year the administration is planning to demand about 50 percent more. There will be worthwhile debates as to whether the administration's approach is the most cost-effective. But there should be no time wasted on claims that global warming is unreal.