Tuesday, February 13, 2007

An experiment that hints we are wrong on climate change

Writing in London's "The Times", Nigel Calder, former editor of New Scientist, says the orthodoxy must be challenged

When politicians and journalists declare that the science of global warming is settled, they show a regrettable ignorance about how science works. We were treated to another dose of it recently when the experts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued the Summary for Policymakers that puts the political spin on an unfinished scientific dossier on climate change due for publication in a few months' time. They declared that most of the rise in temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to man-made greenhouse gases.

The small print explains "very likely" as meaning that the experts who made the judgment felt 90% sure about it. 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 Adelie 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.

So one awkward question you can ask, when you're forking out those extra taxes for climate change, is "Why is east Antarctica getting colder?" It makes no sense at all if carbon dioxide is driving global warming. While you're at it, you might inquire whether Gordon Brown will give you a refund if it's confirmed that global warming has stopped. The best measurements of global air temperatures come from American weather satellites, and they show wobbles but no overall change since 1999.

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 Chinese population doubled then, while in Europe the Vikings and cathedral-builders prospered. Fascinating relics of earlier episodes come from the Swiss Alps, with the rediscovery in 2003 of a long-forgotten pass used intermittently whenever the world was warm.

What does the Intergovernmental Panel do with such emphatic evidence for an alternation of warm and cold periods, linked to solar activity and going on long before human industry was a possible factor? Less than nothing. 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.

He saw from compilations of weather satellite data that cloudiness varies according to how many atomic particles are coming in from exploded stars. More cosmic rays, more clouds. The sun's magnetic field bats away many of the cosmic rays, and its intensification during the 20th century meant fewer cosmic rays, fewer clouds, and a warmer world. On the other hand the Little Ice Age was chilly because the lazy sun let in more cosmic rays, leaving the world cloudier and gloomier.

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.

Thanks to having written The Manic Sun, a book about Svensmark's initial discovery published in 1997, I have been privileged to be on the inside track for reporting his struggles and successes since then. The outcome is a second book, The Chilling Stars, co-authored by the two of us and published next week by Icon books. We are not exaggerating, we believe, when we subtitle it "A new theory of climate change".

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.


Below is the abstract the latest paper on the matters referred to above:


(From arXiv, December 2007)

By Henrik Svensmark

It has been proposed that galactic cosmic rays may influence the Earth's climate by affecting cloud formation. If changes in cloudiness play a part in climate change, their effect changes sign in Antarctica. Satellite data from the Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE) are here used to calculate the changes in surface temperatures at all latitudes, due to small percentage changes in cloudiness. The results match the observed contrasts in temperature changes, globally and in Antarctica. Evidently clouds do not just respond passively to climate changes but take an active part in the forcing, in accordance with changes in the solar magnetic field that vary the cosmic-ray flux.

The green fervour: Is environmentalism the new religion?

In his new book Apollo's Arrow, ambitiously subtitled The Science of Prediction and the Future of Everything, Vancouver-based author and mathematician David Orrell set out to explain why the mathematical models scientists use to predict the weather, the climate and the economy are not getting any better, just more refined in their uncertainty.

What he discovered, in trying to sketch the first principles of prophecy, was the religious nature of modern environmentalism. This is not to say that fearing for the future of the planet is irrational in the way supernatural belief arguably is, just that - in its myths of the Fall and the Apocalypse, its saints and heretics, its iconography and tithing, its reliance on prophecy, even its schisms - the green movement now exhibits the same psychology of compliance as religion.

Dr. Orrell is no climate-change denier. He calls himself green. But he understands the unjustified faith that arises from the psychological need tomake predictions "The track record of any kind of long-distance prediction is really bad, but everyone's still really interested in it. It's sort of a way of picturing the future. But we can't make long-term predictions of the economy, and we can't make long-term predictions of the climate," Dr. Orrell said in an interview. After all, he said, scientists cannot even write the equation of a cloud, let alone make a workable model of the climate.

Formerly of University College London, Dr. Orrell is best known among scientists for arguing that the failures of weather forecasting are not due to chaotic effects - as in the butterfly that causes the hurricane - but to errors of modelling. He sees the same problems in the predictions of the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which he calls "extremely vague," and says there is no scientific reason to think the climate is more predictable than the weather. "Models will cheerfully boil away all the water in the oceans or cover the world in ice, even with pre-industrial levels of Co2," he writes in Apollo's Arrow . And so scientists use theoretical concepts like "flux adjustments" to make the models agree with reality. When models about the future climate are in agreement, "it says more about the self-regulating group psychology of the modelling community than it does about global warming and the economy."

In explaining such an arcane topic for a general audience, he found himself returning again and again to religious metaphors to explain our faith in predictions, referring to the "weather gods" and the "images of almost biblical wrath" in the literature. He sketched the rise of "the gospel of deterministic science," a faith system that was born with Isaac Newton and died with Albert Einstein. He said his own physics education felt like an "indoctrination" into the use of models, and that scientists in his field, "like priests... feel they are answering a higher calling." "If you go back to the oracles of ancient Greece, prediction has always been one function of religion," he said. "This role is coveted, and so there's not very much work done at questioning the prediction, because it's almost as if you were going to the priest and saying, `Look, I'm not sure about the Second Coming of Christ.' "

He is not the first to make this link. Forty years ago, shortly after Rachel Carson launched modern environmentalism by publishing leading to the first Earth Day in 1970, a Princeton history professor named LynnWhite wrote a seminal essay called "The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis." "By destroying pagan animism [the belief that natural objects have souls], Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects," he wrote in a 1967 issue of . "Since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious, whether we call it that or not." It was a prescient claim. In a 2003 speech in San Francisco, best-selling author Michael Crichton was among the first to explicitly close the circle, calling modern environmentalism "the religion of choice for urban atheists ... a perfect 21st century re-mapping of traditional JudeoChristian beliefs andmyths."

Today, the popularity of British author James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis - that the Earth itself functions as a living organism - confirms the return of a sort of idolatrous animism, a religion of nature. The recent IPCC report, and a week's worth of turgid headlines, did not create this faith, but certainly made it more evident.

It can be felt in the frisson of piety that comes with lighting an energy-saving light bulb, a modern votive candle. It is there in the pious propaganda of media outlets like the, Toronto Star, which on Jan. 28 made the completely implausible claim that, "The debate about greenhouse gas emissions appears to be over." It can be seen in the public ritual of cycling to work, in the veneer of saintliness on David Suzuki and Al Gore (the rush for tickets to the former vice-president's upcoming appearance crashed the server at the University of Toronto this week), in the high-profile conversion (honest or craven) of GeorgeW. Bush, and in the sinful guilt of throwing a plastic bottle in the garbage.

Adherents make arduous pilgrimages and call them ecotourism. Newspapers publish the iconography of polar bears. The IPCC reports carry the weight of scripture.

John Kay of the Financial Times wrote last month, about future climate chaos: "Christians look to the Second Coming, Marxists look to the collapse of capitalism, with the same mixture of fear and longing ... The discovery of global warming filled a gap in the canon ... [and] provides justification for the link between the sins of our past and the catastrophe of our future."

Like the tithe in Judaism and Christianity, the religiosity of green is seen in the suspiciously precise mathematics that allow companies such as Bullfrog Power or Offsetters to sell the supposed neutralization of the harmful emissions from household heating, air travel or transportation to a concert.

It is in the schism that has arisen over whether to renew or replace Kyoto, which, even if the scientific skeptics are completely discounted, has been a divisive force for environmentalists.

What was once called salvation - a nebulous state of grace - is now known as sustainability, a word that is equally resistant to precise definition. There is even a hymn, When the North Pole Melts, by James G. Titus, a scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is not exactly How Great Thou Art, but serves a similar purpose.

Environmentalism even has its persecutors, embodied in the Bush White House attack dogs who have conducted no less than an Inquisition against climate scientists, which failed to bring them to heel but instead inspired potential martyrs. Of course, as religions tend to do, environmentalists commit persecution of their own, which has created heretics out of mere skeptics.

All of this might be fine if religions had a history of rational scientific inquiry and peaceful, tolerant implementation of their beliefs. As it is, however, many religions, environmentalism included, continue to struggle with the curse of literalism, and the resultant extremism. "Maybe I'm wrong, but I think all this is wrapped up in our belief that we can predict the future," said Dr. Orrell. "What we need is more of a sense that we're out of our depth, and that's more likely to promote a lasting change in behaviour." Projections are useful to "provoke ideas and aid thinking about the future," but as he writes in the book, "they should not be taken literally". The "fundamental danger of deterministic, objective science [is that] like a corny, overformulaic film, it imagines and presents the world as a predictable object. It has no sense of the mystery, magic, or surprise of life."

The solution, he thinks, is to adopt what the University of Toronto's Thomas Homer-Dixon calls a "prospective mind" - an intellectual stance that is "proactive, anticipatory, comfortable with change, and not surprised by surprise." In short, if we are to be good, future problem solvers, we must not be blinded by prophecy.

"I think [this stance] opens up the possibility for a more emotional and therefore more effective response," Dr. Orrell said. "There's a sense in which uncertainty is actually scarier and more likely to make us act than if you have bureaucrats saying, `Well, it's going to get warmer by about three degrees, and we know what's going to happen.'"



In a recent column Ellen Goodman says, "I would like to say we're at a point where global warming is impossible to deny. Let's just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future."

In so doing, she reveals that she doesn't comprehend the issues. More important, she trivializes the Holocaust. First, the Holocaust is a part of history and, notwithstanding Ahmadinejad, can be verified as a fact. Similarly whether the present is warmer than the recent past is also verifiable, and no one, including so-called 'deniers' like Fred Singer or Richard Lindzen, denies that today is not warmer than, say, 150 years ago.

What they dispute is the amount of warming, the extent to which humanity is responsible for that warming, and the portion of the human-induced warming that can be ascribed to well-mixed greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane and nitrous oxides as opposed to other anthropogenic factors -- all critical questions if one wants to design effective policies to slow climate change, which presumably Ms. Goodman would also want.

Regarding the globally-warmed future, its consequences can be modeled but not verified, except after the fact. The best that can be done is to hazard an educated guess about its impacts. We do this using "models", so-called because they are not reality.

And where does Ellen Goodman get the notion that global warming will parallel the Holocaust? Will the toll from global warming rival that of the Holocaust? Is that written in the just-published IPCC summary for policy makers, which only addresses the science, but not the socioeconomic impacts of climate change?

Finally, lest we forget, remember that the Holocaust was enabled in part by the passive acquiescence of a population too cowed by authority to dissent from the orthodoxies of time and place. Perhaps more dissenting voices might have saved more lives from the Holocaust. More power to the dissenters... who refuse to march lockstep with -- and dare dissent from -- today's orthodoxies.



A perceptive Letter to "The Times" below:

Sir, I listened on Thursday to Melvin Bragg's excellent programme on Karl Popper. Afterwards I heard of David Milliband's remark that the scientific debate on global warming was now closed.

I am not sure if Popper would have laughed or raged - probably both. For him no scientific debate was ever closed, and he pointed out that the Newtonian "consensus" had lasted several centuries when Einstein came along and reopened the debate. Whether the "climate consensus" will last more than a few years before the debate needs to be reopened seems doubtful.

As I understand it, the climate modellers are using Newtonian mechanics to simulate a coupled nonlinear chaotic system. This raised questions as long ago as the early 1960s, and even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's own Third Assessment seemed a little concerned. The debate is clearly not closed at all.

Popper was the author of The Open Society and its Enemies. He would surely have numbered among these enemies those who attack scientists who express doubts about the conventional view of global warming.

TOM ADDISCOTT, Harpenden, Herts

Now Australia's "drought" hits Sydney

Every single Eastern Australian State has now had flooding but there are still severe water-usage restrictions in most places because no major dams have been built for many years -- under Greenie influence, of course. Using the "drought" and global warming as an excuse for an inadequate domestic water supply is getting to be the sort of "big lie" that Dr. Goebbels would be proud of.

While the east coast was yesterday buffetted by rain, leading to flash flooding and the collapse of a shopping centre roof in Sydney, in the central and southern parts of NSW wind and dust storms led to one death and cast an eerie glow across much of the Riverina.

The problems in Sydney began shortly after midday when sections of a roof fell in at the Campbelltown Shopping Mall in the southwest, leading to the evacuation of a thousand shoppers and staff. A NSW fire brigade spokesman said fire teams attended the collapse after automatic alarms were set off. The water was up to 1m deep in the loading dock and knee deep in other parts of the complex, with the situation exacerbated by overflowing stormwater drains.

The spokesman said large amounts of water had poured through the ceiling and entered the lower levels of the complex, damaging carpets and stock in more than 60 of the centre's 103 shops. Police were called in to assist with the evacuation and State Emergency Service teams built sandbag walls to prevent further water damage.

In separate incidents, two drivers became stranded during flash floods in the St Marys area of western Sydney. Both men were pulled to safety but their cars were substantially damaged.

In the state's Riverina district in the south, a man in his 20s was killed while driving his utility along Burley Griffin Way near Temora during a wind storm shortly after 3pm. Witnesses told police a large gum tree was uprooted and struck the man's vehicle. The local man sustained multiple injuries and died at the scene.

Senior forecaster with the Bureau of Metereology Neale Fraser said the eerie glow that had been cast by the dust storm across Griffith and surrounding towns was caused by a trough of low pressure heading west which had caused a surge of easterlies in its wake, with winds gusting up to 55km/h. He said the surge "looks spectacular because it is only a few thousand feet deep and is confined to that layer". "It is like a tongue of cooler air which picks up all the dust but is then confined," he said.

A spokesman for the NSW State Emergency Service, Phil Campbell, said there were more than 250 calls for help in the southwest of Sydney, mostly because of flash flooding. A "flood watch" alert has been issued by the Bureau of Metereology for the Georges River and SES volunteers closely monitored river heights overnight. While the east of the country was buffetted by storm pockets yesterday, the west remained hot and dry. Marble Bar in the Pilbara experienced its 36th day in succession with temperatures above 40C.



Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is generally to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

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