A letter writer last month questioned a single paragraph of my Dec. 14 column on the total failure of a recent U.N. climate conference to replace the Kyoto accord on carbon emissions.

The writer criticized sources I cited that said Great Britain’s Meteorological Office (weather service) had confirmed that there was a 16-year plateau in global temperatures beginning in 1996, despite ongoing increases in global carbon dioxide levels.

Few people argue with reports that average global temperatures rose somewhat from 1980 to 1996. However, the writer said the claim of a plateau since ’96 had been “thoroughly refuted” by “the Met.” Indeed, there has been an official denial, but it too has been disputed by skeptics.

One of them, David Whitehouse of Britain’s Global Warming Policy Foundation, noted the Met’s “refutation” showed a warming trend by dividing the period since 1980 into decades, which he claims “cherry-picked the data” because “the climate knows nothing of decades” — and thus using them artificially overlaps warmer periods with cooler ones.

Whitehouse, using the latest data available, divided the same period into five-year segments, isolating the period in question and bringing it up to the present date. That, he said, shows that warming trends over the past 30 years proceeded in fits and starts, and the period of the past 16 years “does not show an underlying constant rate. Temperature standstills are the norm.”

His graphs (www.gwpf.org/no-underlying-global-warming-in-recent-years) illustrate his point better than words do.

All this shows there are real conflicts not only over the data, but how to interpret them, and no one should accept any single account as the last word. Especially if it’s being used as an argument to either raise your taxes or make it harder for you to make a living.

With that in mind, note that the Met now is predicting that “global temperatures over the next five years are likely to be a little lower than previously predicted” — resulting in five more years of essentially level “warming.”

MOVING ON to more recent events, much was made in the mainstream media of an announcement by the National Climate Data Center that 2012 was “the hottest year on record in the United States.”

That led the Washington Times to remind us that the United States amounts to 2 percent of the world’s land surface, and that temperature extremes over such a small land mass were meaningless on a global scale.

In New York, the green enterprise suffered a blow when The New York Times announced it was closing down its environmental desk, while still maintaining it had a commitment to cover the beat. As one blogger noted, “Absolutely. It’s what newspapers always do when they’re committed to a particular field: close down the entire department responsible for covering it.”

Al Gore, producer of the film “An Inconvenient Truth,” a movie which a court in Great Britain found to contain so many scientific flaws that it could not be shown in schools unless pupils were given a list of nine major errors, will make at least $125 million from selling his failing cable network, Current TV. The buyer is the English-language service of Al Jazeera, a network that in Mideast nations has broadcast programs on its Arabic version sympathizing with Islamic militants. The sale is financed by, among other things, oil revenues.

Finally, in a column headlined “Cooling Down the Fears of Climate Change,” the Wall Street Journal’s Matt Ridley said Dec. 18 that people with access to as-yet-unreleased papers submitted for the fifth iteration of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report say that current CO2 projections by the end of the century will yield a cumulative global temperature rise of “less than 2 degrees C,” instead of current predictions from various sources of 3.0 to 5.6 degrees C.

Ridley claims this relatively small change “will do no net harm. It will actually do net good — that much, the IPCC scientists have already agreed upon in the last IPCC report. Rainfall will increase slightly, growing seasons will lengthen, Greenland’s ice cap will melt only very slowly, and so on.”

NASA’s James Hansen, a controversial warming advocate, disputed Ridley’s report in a letter, but other writers pointed out that estimates based on computer models still fail to explain the current pause in warming, let alone offer reliable predictions for the future.

The effects of CO2 are said to be magnified by such natural “forcing” agents as water vapor, but Ridley quotes a “Nobel-winning physicist with a senior role in combating climate change (who) admitted to me (that) ‘We don’t even know the sign’ of water vapor’s effect” — that is, whether it is a plus or minus factor for warming.

And we’re supposed to make major public policy decisions based on that?

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]