Monday, February 12, 2007

Experiment Hints Alarmists are Wrong on Climate Change

Nigel Calder, former editor of New Scientist, says the orthodoxy must be challenged.

Selected Excerpts:

When politicians and journalists declare that the science of global warming is settled, they show a regrettable ignorance about how science works.

Older readers may recall a press conference at Harwell in 1958 when Sir John Cockcroft, Britain’s top nuclear physicist, said he was 90% certain that his lads had achieved controlled nuclear fusion. It turned out that he was wrong. More positively, a 10% uncertainty in any theory is a wide open breach for any latterday Galileo or Einstein to storm through with a better idea. That is how science really works.

Twenty years ago, climate research became politicised in favour of one particular hypothesis, which redefined the subject as the study of the effect of greenhouse gases. As a result, the rebellious spirits essential for innovative and trustworthy science are greeted with impediments to their research careers. And while the media usually find mavericks at least entertaining, in this case they often imagine that anyone who doubts the hypothesis of man-made global warming must be in the pay of the oil companies. As a result, some key discoveries in climate research go almost unreported.

Enthusiasm for the global-warming scare also ensures that heatwaves make headlines, while contrary symptoms, such as this winter’s billion-dollar loss of Californian crops to unusual frost, are relegated to the business pages. The early arrival of migrant birds in spring provides colourful evidence for a recent warming of the northern lands. But did anyone tell you that in east Antarctica the Adélie penguins and Cape petrels are turning up at their spring nesting sites around nine days later than they did 50 years ago? While sea-ice has diminished in the Arctic since 1978, it has grown by 8% in the Southern Ocean.

“Why is east Antarctica getting colder?” It makes no sense at all if carbon dioxide is driving global warming.

That levelling off is just what is expected by the chief rival hypothesis, which says that the sun drives climate changes more emphatically than greenhouse gases do. After becoming much more active during the 20th century, the sun now stands at a high but roughly level state of activity.

Solar physicists warn of possible global cooling, should the sun revert to the lazier mood it was in during the Little Ice Age 300 years ago.

Climate history and related archeology give solid support to the solar hypothesis. The 20th-century episode, or Modern Warming, was just the latest in a long string of similar events produced by a hyperactive sun, of which the last was the Medieval Warming.

The 2007 Summary for Policymakers boasts of cutting in half a very small contribution by the sun to climate change conceded in a 2001 report. Disdain for the sun goes with a failure by the self-appointed greenhouse experts to keep up with inconvenient discoveries about how the solar variations control the climate. The sun’s brightness may change too little to account for the big swings in the climate. But more than 10 years have passed since Henrik Svensmark in Copenhagen first pointed out a much more powerful mechanism.

The only trouble with Svensmark’s idea — apart from its being politically incorrect — was that meteorologists denied that cosmic rays could be involved in cloud formation. After long delays in scraping together the funds for an experiment, Svensmark and his small team at the Danish National Space Center hit the jackpot in the summer of 2005.

In a box of air in the basement, they were able to show that electrons set free by cosmic rays coming through the ceiling stitched together droplets of sulphuric acid and water. These are the building blocks for cloud condensation. But journal after journal declined to publish their report; the discovery finally appeared in the Proceedings of the Royal Society late last year.

Where does all that leave the impact of greenhouse gases? Their effects are likely to be a good deal less than advertised, but nobody can really say until the implications of the new theory of climate change are more fully worked out.

The reappraisal starts with Antarctica, where those contradictory temperature trends are directly predicted by Svensmark’s scenario, because the snow there is whiter than the cloud-tops. Meanwhile humility in face of Nature’s marvels seems more appropriate than arrogant assertions that we can forecast and even control a climate ruled by the sun and the stars.


Rick and Gary said...

Hi David -- Interesting perspective. I had never heard about increased solar activity.

I guess the whole discussion has become politicized because people who denied "global warming" in the past appear to have meant that the globe is not warming. Perhaps many of them really meant (and mean) that, yes, the globe is warming, but we really don't know that CO2 is the reason.

In any case, it always interesting to see how people these days look at nature as something easily managed.

Buz said...

I am less concerned with politicians who have not learned the lesson of Viet Nam than with those who have not learned the lesson of Chicken Little


Rick and Gary said...

Well said, Buz. But let me play devil's advocate for environmental alarmism, because sometimes it can be a victim of its own success.

We kind of take for granted clean air and water (at least I did until I traveled in South America for a couple months). But the amazing technology advances in pollution control were spurned by the Clean Air Act of 1970, which was spurned, I believe, by environmental alarmism.

Let's say, just for kicks, that Al Gore is right and that his crusade is ultimately successful: accelerating CO2 will cause accelerating temperature increases - Congress passes laws to cap and reduce CO2 emissions - Industry develops ingenious new ways to reduce CO2 - nothing bad happens.

In 30-40 years, most people will remember only that Al Gore made a big stink about something bad that never happened.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Rick,

In some ways, global warming is similar to the war on terror and other threats America and humanity have faced in the past.

What would have happened if the Crusaders had not driven the militant Muslims out of Europe? What would have happened if President Lincoln did not re-supply Fort Sumter? What would have happened if President Kennedy had not blockaded Cuba? What would have happened if President Bush had not driven the Iraqis out of Kuwait? What would have happened if President Bush had not invaded Iraq? What will happen when President Rodham-Clinton makes CO2 emissions illegal? : - )

As a society, through our elected officials, we have to make the best decision we can based on the known facts at the time. Wisdom usually dictates patience, but infinite patience is not reasonable. Therefore, some decisions must be made with less than perfect knowledge.

I would say, based on the known facts and evidence, a CO2 caused catastrophe is possible, but very, very, highly unlikely. The corrective measures must be balanced against the risk. If we can produce alternative energy without producing CO2, we should head in that direction. Solar and windmill technology should be encouraged. However, battery technology needs a CO2 producing energy source to be created.

We also should not destroy the global economy because an acorn fell on our head.

Rick and Gary said...

Hi David -- I certainly agree with you that we shouldn't try to curtail CO2. Even it was possible to do so to a meaningful extent (which would mean China and India joining in) it's a cure that's worse than the disease.

I may also agree that a "CO2 caused catastrophe is possible, but very, very, highly unlikely." It depends on how you define catastrophe.

If the world does warm, we'll loose some things and we'll gain some things. Bangladesh may go under, but giant Serbia, Greenland, and northern Canada will flower, as will Alaska (about 1/2 the land mass of the whole continental U.S.) In fact, thriving vegetation on these former tundras would eat up billions of tons of CO2 each year and produce billions of tons of oxygen each year, creating a new crisis/movie opportunity for Al Gore's successors.

Human nature is predisposed to fear change (and Al Gore in his movie elevates this shortcoming into a religion). More often than not in history, humans conspire to stop change, creating, by definition, stagnation.

David M. Smith said...

Hi again Rick,

I think humans are a bundle of fears, hopes, beliefs, experiences, needs, desires, generosity, and demons. All of us are made of the same ingredients, but the amount of each ingredient varies. Fear is very powerful. Fear is compounded by insecurity. Insecure people form groups of kindred spirits.

A lack of faith in our President, and government in general, to deal with threats that effect everyone adds to the fear and insecurity. President Bush is not Adolph Hitler, and neither is Al Gore, but the same dynamic that led to World War II is apparent in the worldwide division over the war in Iraq and Global Warming. Some people want a leader to soothe their fears, while others fear the solution.

Buz said...


re your comments on environmental alarmism. I do agree that something like environmentalism can be a victim of its own success, however, over many years I have begun not only to listen to what is being said, but also to who is saying it.

When someone comes out and tells me that eggs will kill you, or that red meat is poisonous, and I look at 4000 years of human history, and see a lot of people who ate eggs and red meat and lived into their 80s, then I have to wonder WHY someone would tell me that they will kill me. Later, when that person tells me that cell phones cause brain cancer, I have to look at those claims with a jaundiced eye.

I remember that in the 60s and 70s we were facing another ice age before the end of the century, and now most of those same people are telling me that we are facing global warming ... while southern Virginia is facing one of the coldest winters on record, and the capital of Nepal has had its first snow in over 50 years.

Add to this the people running around telling us that the automobile is the most dangerous device on planet earth ... (I suppose that is why, after Hiroshima, Japan is bombing us with Toyotas and Hondas!!) ... and I just say "ho-hum" as I sit back and eat my red-meat cheese burger and my trans-fat soaked french fries, washing it down with an artificialy sweetened Coca-cola.


Rick and Gary said...

Hey Buz -- I pretty much agree, but I'd watch out for the trans fats. That particular item definitely does not go back thousands of years. Indeed, most of the food that most people eat these days didn't exist before WWII.

Buz said...

I thought I would play it safe and not mention the Twinkies O-;