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Challenging global warming orthodoxy


Readers would be well served to read the excellent article series by Lawrence Solomon in the National Post newspaper on the topic of global warming and climate change. I’ve taken the liberty of copying the most recent one below. It’s his latest in a series championing the scientists who question the orthodoxy about man-made global warming. It’s an excellent article and discusses the thesis that most of the warming comes from changed output from the Sun.
The other articles in this series (14 so far) can be read here:
http://www.urban-renaissance.org/urbanren/index.cfm?DSP=larry&SubID=163
One of the things that sets these articles apart from others that question orthodoxies about anthropogenic global warming is the author, who is a credible environmentalist who has spent a lifetime promoting wise energy use at Pollution Probe and his more recent Urban Renaissance Institute. I am a big fan of Larry’s non-ideological common sense solutions to a wide variety of social and environmental problems, including harnessing the power of markets and individual choice to solve problems, rather than just the government command-and-control programs with which some left-leaning environmentalists are sometimes enamored. A central planner he ain’t.
Below, I offer ten points of my own for you to think about, that reflect my own recent thoughts and also some ideas about positive things we should do for the environment, whether or not humans are the cause. Under that I list some facts sent to me from a friend that are worht including in informed discussion about the climate change topic. Below that is the Lawrence Solomon article. Enjoy.
Ten thoughts about climate change:
1. The theory that human generation of greenhouse gases from the consumption of fossil fuels is responsible for most or all of recent warming of the Earth‘s climate is not a “settled science.” Human beings are no doubt having some impact on the climate but it may be much less than is claimed by some groups, including the UN IPCC, which has recently revised its warming projections downwards. There is significant evidence that the bureaucrats at the UN IPCC have manipulated and “spun” scientific findings, especially in the Summary for Policymakers chapter that accompanies their reports. Dissenting reports and statements have been issued by scientists who feel the IPCC has misconstrued their findings, and this is a terrible shame considering the importance of the climate change topic.
2. There is evidence that the Earth’s climate is warming a small amount, but that this is largely from natural causes. The small recent increase in the Earth’s temperature perfectly correlates with warming measured on other planets such as Mars, where probes have measured the same increase on Earth, though of course human beings cannot be responsible for warming on that planet. This lends support to the body of science that believes increased output from the Sun is responsible for most of the warming trend which, in fact, predates the industrial revolution. This is an area where further research is crucial. If society is going to make a massive effort to reduce its CO2 emissions, it had better be based on convincing science and not the sort of selective propaganda one finds in such things as Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth which really dumbed down the science. The danger exists that attention and funds could be diverted from other serious environmental issues, such as the severe degradation of various ecosystems, including those in the ocean. (As just one excellent example, please go see the new documentary Sharkwater which shows the worldwide destruction of sharks which has occurred almost without notice. The consequences of removing these alpha predators from the seas is extremely dire and deserves to be on the front page of every newspaper as much as climate change issues. Turns out that sharks, which predate the dinosaurs, have shaped most life on earth.)
3. This does not, however, mean that human beings should continue to pollute the atmosphere or use non-renewable energy resources wastefully. Just as the environmental activists tell us, there are many opportunities for us to increase energy efficiency and save money in our own households and, as a society, avoid the need to build more power plants (to meet peak energy demand). These steps are worth taking whether or not human fossil fuel burning is heating the planet. We should also preserve oil and gas reserves for future generations – these reserves took hundreds of millions of years to accumulate via the decay of ancient plants and complex geological forces; it’s almost immoral to burn up the easily-accessible stock in only a few generations. Our descendants a few hundred years from now will rightly regard us as wanton and reckless creatures.
4. The issue of climate change is important enough, even for a skeptical person, to be treated seriously. While further research is conducted, we should at least do the relatively easy things, as an insurance policy against an ongoing warming that is already under way. Even if it’s from natural causes, we don’t need to add to the problem by recklessly emitting significantly more carbon into the environment than we need to, and apart from warming there are other legitimate concerns we must consider from the release of carbon into the environment, which includes the potential to increase the acidity of oceans and other effects from interfering with the carbon cycle.
5. The easy things are, naturally, “easy” to think of. For example, consider the retail stores that seek to entice customers inside by leaving their front doors open in the summer, so that cold air-conditioned air flows out to the street. This is an expensive and inexcusable waste. On an individual scale, people can adjust thermostats in the summer and winter so that houses aren’t overly hot in the cold months, nor overly cool in the warm months. People can put on a sweater in the winter or open up their windows in the summer, and save money on their energy bills. A good investment is a thermostat that can be set to adjust vary the output of furnaces and air conditioners at different times of day and night. These are the easy things, and they really add up.
6. Along those lines, people need to use their appliances (dishwashers, clothes washers, dryers, etc.) during non-peak times. Public agencies could do a much better job at educating people as to what the best times are, and should consider hiring summer students to go door to door educating people about such things as how to better insulate their homes, and how to use timers on dishwashers. As an aside, old beer fridges in people’s basements and cottages are enormously energy wasters and should be replaced immediately.
7. But no amount of proselytizing will do as good a job as changing behavior as a price signal. The next step is to equip homes and appliances with so-called “smart meters” which measure the energy consumption of different machines in real time, so that consumers can see immediately what their energy consumption costs them. A nation-wide investment in smart meters could potentially do more to reduce energy consumption than most other ideas. It would best if the private sector is encouraged to do this with government backing, rather than a government led, government implemented progam.
8. As Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently announced in Montreal, Canada is in an excellent position to commercialize energy-efficient technology and then sell it around the world. As countries invest in more varied assets in their energy portfolios, nuclear power will no doubt become popular once again, and Canada is a world leader in this technology as well as rich in rare uranium resources. Canada has great strengths in fuel cell technology and hydrogen. In developing the Alberta oil sands, we are also in a terrific position to develop and demonstrate “carbon sequestration.” The fact is, if we melt all the readily available oil in the oil sands (and use natural gas to do so) we will vastly exceed our Kyoto commitments. This seems likely to occur as the United States turns to Canada to reduce its reliance on Middle East oil (read: unstable and hostile governments). Yet it’s proven that Saskatchewan’s geology is made up of precisely the right kind of fractured rock into which we could safely pump and sequester all of the CO2 that will be generated by oil sands development. In fact, Saskatchewan is said to have enough room underground to store all the CO2 produced from burning the world’s entire fossil fuel reserves. Though this would be impractical, we can certainly take care of our own emissions and teach other countries to do the same, where the right geology exists. (Some have argued that the best way for Canada to develop the oil sands is to use nuclear power to melt the tar and then pump the CO2 to Saskatchewan. Something worth evaluating.)
9. Real market pricing and the removal of subsidies would go a long way toward improving our environmental performance. This includes the removal of any subsidies to natural resource extraction and to oil and gas development, and especially subsidies to the agricultural sector that seeks to grow corn, etc. for ethanol production (“renewable fuel”). This has the perverse effect of raising the price of corn and hence many foods (which disproportionately affects the poor) and is also an environmental shell game; it takes about the same amount of fossil fuel to produce a unit of ethanol, thus negating any benefit. Ethanol production makes sense in some circumstances but purpose-grown cron crops are non-economic and environmentally regressive. Also, the climate would benefit more if we planted trees on this land or even just let such lands lie fallow. Trees are an excellent carbon sequestration mechanism, and their cutting down in the past to create vast farm lands has harmed natural systems and, in fact, allowed more and more energy from the sun to penetrate and heat the soil. This leads to excess evaporation and eventual “desertification” of large areas. Canada’s Prairies are in real danger of reverting to the drier state that existed up until the anomaly of the 20th Century.
10. Canada is in an excellent position to promote sound science and common-sense solutions to overcome environmental impacts that are the byproduct of natural resource exploitation and manufacturing. Many technical advancements are ready, or almost ready, for commercialization. Market discipline could remove many of the perverse side-effects of subsidies. There are enough practical actions available to ordinary people and companies to satisfy environmental activists, concerned citizens, and business entrepreneurs alike.
Some interesting facts related to climate change:
1. The famous “hockey stick” diagram that purports to show global temperatures rising has been discredited. Although some people still trot it out at conferences and other gatherings, there was a raging debate on this now infamous curve and it was shown to be the product of manipulation of data toward a preconceived goal. Think what you want about climate change, but don’t make use of this icon without doing some research.
This is not a small matter. The “hockey stick” was the centre piece of the 3rd IPCC report. It occupies almost half a page in the Summary for Policymakers, more than half a page in the Technical Summary, and a full page in the main text of the 3rd IPPC Report. In the Synthesis Report it appears three times. Not surprisingly it was reproduced all around the world in media reports, governmental briefings and other official reports.
Countless books have covered this issue, some devoting entire chapters to it. If you do a web search you will find any number of pages citing it. Wikipedia covers it well:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hockey_stick_controversy
Another good composite source will be found at
http://www.worldclimatereport.com/index.php/2005/03/03/hockey-stick-1998-2005-rip/
It provides a lengthy account and is fully referenced. Toward the end that article sums up the position thus:
But, the “hockey stick” was remarkable. And as such, it will be remembered as a remarkable lesson in how fanaticism can temporarily blind a large part of the scientific community and allow unproven results to become mainstream thought overnight. The embarrassment that it caused to many scientists working in the field of climatology will not be soon forgotten. Hopefully, new findings to come, as remarkable and enticing as they may first appear, will be greeted with a bit more caution and thorough investigation before they are widely accepted as representing the scientific consensus.
2. Carbon dioxide.
It is sometimes claimed that man-made emissions of about 7 Gigatonnes of carbon are so massive as to disrupt the global carbon balance. However, for proportion, consider this:
There are about 750 GtC of CO2 in the atmosphere
In the oceans it is about 40,000 GtC
The stock of CO2 as carbon in land plants, animals and soils is about 2,000 GtC
Fossil fuel reserves are about 5-10,000 GtC
Plant respiration and decomposition releases and withdraws about 60 GtC annually into the atmosphere
The oceans release and withdraw about 90 GtC
Minor variations in natural release and withdrawal can swamp anything mankind may have contributed
Source: Essex & McKitrick, ‘Taken by Storm: the troubled science, policy and politics of global warming’ at page 210 in the chapter entitled ‘Uncertainty and Nescience’
Now, here’s the Lawrence Solomon article I mentioned at the start of this mini-essay:
THE DENIERS — PART XIX
Science, not politics
LAWRENCE SOLOMON
Financial Post (National Post, FP Comment section, FP15, Friday, April 13)
LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com
Of all the scientists who are labelled “deniers” because they don’t support the orthodoxy of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, none comes in for more vilification than Eigil Friis-Christensen. For understandable reasons. Dr. Friis-Christensen questions the very premise that man-made activities explain most of the global warming that we see, and through his work he has convinced much of an entire scientific discipline to explore his line of inquiry. With his 1991 paper in Science, showing a startling correlation between global warming and the activities of the sun, Dr. Friis-Christensen unleashed a wave of related research by solar scientists seeking to learn the mechanisms through which solar activity may influence climate on Earth. Thanks largely to his early efforts, and ongoing efforts, too, a growing proportion of the world’s solar scientists no longer place man at the centre of the climate-change universe.
Dr. Friis-Christensen’s interest in climate change predates the Kyoto Treaty of 1995, it predates the Rio Conference in 1992 that led to Kyoto, it even predates the first report in 1990 of the IPCC, the body spearheading the vast majority of the climate-change research now underway.
“My interest dates back to an extreme solar storm that occurred in August, 1972,” he explains. “I was in Greenland, on my first assignment in my new job as geophysicist at the Danish Meteorological Institute, setting up a chain of magnetometer stations on the west coast.”
Dr. Friis-Christensen remembers lying in his tent and “watching the ink pens of my recorder going so wild that they nearly tore the paper chart apart — we had no digital recording at that time — and I wondered whether such big events could also have an influence in the lower atmosphere, on weather and climate.
“That storm cut off my contact to the outside world for nine days — all radio communication was blacked out — so I had lots of time to reflect on the enormity of the forces at play.”
Dr. Friis-Christensen would soon discover he had a soulmate in his reflections, his mentor and a division head at the institute, Knud Lassen, a pioneer in research into the aurora borealis. They followed developments in the field, even gave lectures on the subject, which was then topical, although not for the reasons we’re familiar with today — in the mid-1970s, climate scientists feared global cooling.
Yet for both scientists, the interest was more a hobby than a formal area of study — until 1989, when Dr. Lassen, 68 years old and nearing retirement, decided to cap his career by pursuing the hunch they had long held. Dr. FriisChristensen needed no persuading to join him on his quest. Two years later, their pathbreaking study was published, though without fanfare. Global cooling had receded from public memory and global warming was not yet a hot topic.
That soon changed, with the growing role of the newly created IPCC.
Upon the IPCC’s creation, with its mandate to investigate the causes of climate change, Dr. Friis-Christensen was hopeful of advances in solving one of the scientific passions of his life. To participate in the IPCC’s quest for answers, he travelled to its January, 1992, meeting in Guangzhou, China, as part of the Danish delegation. By then, he had succeeded Dr. Lassen to become head of the institute’s geophysics division.
But to his astonishment, and despite the recent publication of his Science article, the IPCC refused to consider the sun’s influence on Earth’s climate as a topic worthy of investigation. The scientists at the IPCC had decided that man-made causes and man-made causes alone deserved their attention. But ignoring the potential role of the sun didn’t make it go away, especially since Dr. Friis-Christensen and other solar scientists refused to abandon their research.
Then the attacks on Dr. Friis-Christensen’s credibility began.
His 1991 study had errors, his detractors stated. His 1995 study only made it worse, others chimed in. He fabricated data, people whispered. A recent article in the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper by IPCC partisan George Monbiot well represents the tenor of the attacks:
“A paper published in the journal Eos in 2004 reveals that the ‘agreement’ [between temperatures and solar activity that Friis-Christensen’s 1991 study found] was the result of ‘incorrect handling of the physical data.’ The real data for recent years show the opposite: that the length of the sunspot cycle has declined, while temperatures have risen. When this error was exposed, FriisChristensen and his co-author published a new paper, purporting to produce similar results.
“But this too turned out to be an artefact of mistakes — in this case, in their arithmetic.
“So Friis-Christensen and another author developed yet another means of demonstrating that the sun is responsible, claiming to have discovered a remarkable agreement between cosmic radiation influenced by the sun and global cloud cover … . But, yet again, the method was exposed as faulty. They had been using satellite data which did not in fact measure global cloud cover.
“A paper in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics shows that, when the right data are used, a correlation is not found.”
How much of this litany in the Guardian demonstrates actual errors by Dr. Friis-Christensen? In truth, none of it. Virtually all of the criticisms of Dr. FriisChristensen, published and republished willy-nilly, stem from a lone advisor to the Danish government’s Ministry of the Energy with scant research credentials — he even admits that the government hired him largely for his communications skill.
There is no arithmetic error in Dr. Friis-Christensen’s studies. Remarkably, his critics attributed someone else’s error to him, and then kept doggedly repeating their assertion. Neither are there errors in methodology, although this charge likewise gets repeated without foundation. Neither should it be surprising that different studies of different aspects of solar behaviour would yield anomalies. It is through such exceptions that science proves the rule.
Do the epithets work? With the uninformed, they work a great deal. With the vast majority of his peers, the attacks more represent irritants, noise that obfuscates the political debate but not what counts — the science. Because of his scientific rigour, Dr. Friis-Christensen has won a citation from the Journal of Geophysical Research of the American Geophysical Union for “Excellence in refereeing” and he is sought after by the world’s leading agencies, who have elevated him to the top ranks of his profession.
He now chairs the Danish Space Consortium, heads a European Space Agency mission advisory group, and is vice-president of the International Association of Geomagnetism and Aeronomy. Many of the world’s most prestigious space-related research institutions — the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany, and the Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia among them — are now building on the work that Dr. Friis-Christensen set in train.
Bit by bit, they are putting the pieces of the climate puzzle together, slowly learning more and more about the amazingly complex relationships among solar and cosmic forces, on the one hand, and the array of forces on Earth.
Where this slow, methodical brand of solar science will ultimately lead, no one can yet say. Such uncertainty does not characterize the brand of climate science practiced by the IPCC.
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Urban Renaissance Institute and Consumer Policy Institute, divisions of Energy Probe Research Foundation.


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