by Lawrence Solomon
November 2006-February 2007
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Urban Renaissance
Institute and Consumer Policy Institute, divisions of Energy Probe
Email: Lawrence Solomon@nextcity.com.
Warming is real - and has
The hurricane expert who
stood up to UN junk science
Polar scientists on thin
The original denier - into
The sun moves climate
Will the sun cool us?
The limits of
Look to Mars for the truth
on global warming
Limited role for CO2
November 28, 2006
Prominent statistician Edward Wegman
says climate scientists have
done an inadequate job of incorporating statistical know-how
In the global warming debate, there are essentially two broad camps.
One believes that the science is settled, that global warming is
serious and man-made, and that urgent action must be taken to
mitigate or prevent a future calamity.
The other believes that the
science is far from settled, that precious little is known about
global warming or its likely effects, and that prudence dictates
more research and caution before intervening massively in the
The "science is settled" camp, much the larger of the two, includes
many eminent scientists with impressive credentials.
But just who
are the global warming skeptics who question the studies from the
great majority of climate scientists and what are their motives?
Many in the "science is settled" camp claim that the skeptics are
untrustworthy - that they are either cranks or otherwise at the
periphery of their profession, or that they are in the pockets of
Exxon or other corporate interests. The skeptics are increasingly
being called Deniers, a term used by analogy to
the Holocaust, to
convey the catastrophe that could befall mankind if action is not
Increasingly, too, the press is taking up
the Denier theme,
convincing the public that the global-warming debate is over.
In this, the first of a series, I examine The Deniers, starting with
Dr. Wegman is a professor at the Center for
Computational Statistics at George Mason University, chair of the
National Academy of Sciences' Committee on Applied and Theoretical
Statistics, and board member of the American Statistical
Association. Few statisticians in the world have CVs to rival his
(excerpts appear nearby).
Wegman became involved in the global-warming debate after the energy
and commerce committee of the U.S. House of Representatives asked
him to assess one of the hottest debates in the global-warming
controversy: the statistical validity of work by Michael Mann.
may not have heard of Mann or read Mann's study but you have often
heard its famous conclusion:
that the temperature increases that we
have been experiencing are "likely to have been the largest of any
century during the past 1,000 years" and that the "1990s was the
warmest decade and 1998 the warmest year" of the millennium.
have also heard of Mann's hockey-stick shaped graph, which showed
relatively stable temperatures over most of the last millennium (the
hockey stick's long handle), followed by a sharp increase (the
hockey stick's blade) this century.
Mann's findings were arguably the single most influential study in
swaying the public debate, and in 2001 they became the official view
of the International Panel for Climate Change, the UN body that is
organizing the worldwide effort to combat global warming.
work also had its critics, particularly two Canadians, Steve
McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, who published peer-reviewed critiques
of their own.
Wegman accepted the energy and commerce committee's assignment, and
agreed to assess the Mann controversy pro bono. He conducted his
third-party review by assembling an expert panel of statisticians,
who also agreed to work pro bono. Wegman also consulted outside
statisticians, including the Board of the American Statistical
At its conclusion, the Wegman review entirely
vindicated the Canadian critics and repudiated Mann's work.
"Our committee believes that the assessments that the decade of the
1990s was the hottest decade in a millennium and that 1998 was the
hottest year in a millennium cannot be supported," Wegman stated,
adding that "The paucity of data in the more remote past makes the
hottest-in-a-millennium claims essentially unverifiable."
When Wegman corrected Mann's statistical mistakes,
the hockey stick
Wegman found that Mann made a basic error that,
"may be easily
overlooked by someone not trained in statistical methodology. We
note that there is no evidence that Dr. Mann or any of the other
authors in paleoclimate studies have had significant interactions
with mainstream statisticians."
Instead, this small group of climate
scientists were working on their own, largely in isolation, and
without the academic scrutiny needed to ferret out false
Worse, the problem also applied more generally, to the broader
climate-change and meteorological community, which also relied on
statistical techniques in their studies.
"[I]f statistical methods
are being used, then statisticians ought to be funded partners
engaged in the research to insure as best we possibly can that the
best quality science is being done," Wegman recommended, noting that
"there are a host of fundamental statistical questions that beg
answers in understanding climate dynamics."
In other words, Wegman believes that much of the climate science
that has been done should be taken with a grain of salt - although
the studies may have been peer reviewed, the reviewers were often
unqualified in statistics.
Past studies, he believes, should be
reassessed by competent statisticians and in future, the climate
science world should do better at incorporating statistical
One place to start is with the American Meteorological Society,
which has a committee on probability and statistics.
"I believe it
is amazing for a committee whose focus is on statistics and
probability that of the nine members only two are also members of
the American Statistical Association, the premier statistical
association in the United States, and one of those is a recent PhD
with an assistant-professor appointment in a medical school."
example of the statistical barrenness of the climate-change world, Wegman cited the American Meteorological Association's 2006
Conference on Probability and Statistics in the Atmospheric
Sciences, where only eight presenters out of 62 were members of the
American Statistical Association.
While Wegman's advice - to use trained statisticians in studies
reliant on statistics - may seem too obvious to need stating, the
"science is settled" camp resists it. Mann's hockey-stick graph may
be wrong, many experts now acknowledge, but they assert that he
nevertheless came to the right conclusion.
To which Wegman, and doubtless others who want more rigorous
science, shake their heads in disbelief.
As Wegman summed it up to
the energy and commerce committee in later testimony:
"I am baffled
by the claim that the incorrect method doesn't matter because the
answer is correct anyway. Method Wrong + Answer Correct = Bad
With bad science, only true believers can assert that they
nevertheless obtained the right answer.
Back to Contents
Warming is real - and has benefits
One month ago, the world heard that global warming could lead to a
"on a scale similar to those associated with the
great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th
This assessment, from Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief
the World Bank, made banner headlines and led prominent
leaders such as British Prime Minister Tony Blair to urge immediate
action to stem global warming.
It also led some prominent environmentalists to denounce Sir
Nicholas for what they deemed an outrageous study bereft of
credibility. None of the environmentalists issued a stronger
denunciation, or has better environmental credentials, than
Richard S.J. Tol.
Tol is a Denier, to use the terminology of the "science-is-settled"
camp in the increasingly polarized global warming debate. Like many
other Deniers, Tol doesn't think the evidence is in on global
warming and its effects, he doesn't think there's reason to rush to
action, and he doesn't think that crash programs to curb global
warming are called for.
Also like many other Deniers, he doesn't fit the stereotype that
those who use the epithet imagine. Anything but.
Tol is no fringe outsider to the scientific debate. He is at the
centre of the academic investigation of global warming, a central
figure in the scientific establishment that has been developing the
models and the knowledge to understand the global warming
the United Nation's
Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change, considered by most the authoritative body in the
field, Tol is involved as an author in all three of its Working
Groups. He is also an author and editor of the United Nations
Handbook on Methods for Climate Change Impact Assessment and
He is also a mover and shaker in the
prestigious European Climate Forum. He takes global warming
seriously and has dedicated his professional life to making a
contribution for the better in climate policy and related fields.
Because of his immense reputation, the Stern report itself relied on
Tol's work in coming to its conclusions. But Sir Nicholas twisted
Tol's work out of shape to arrive at unsupportable conclusions.
As one example, Sir Nicholas plucked a figure ($29 per ton of carbon
dioxide) from a range that Tol prepared describing the possible
costs of CO2 emissions, without divulging that in the very same
study Tol concluded that the actual costs "are likely to be
substantially smaller" than $14 per ton of CO2.
Likewise, in an
assessment of the potential consequences of rising sea levels, Sir
Nicholas quoted a study co-authored by Tol that referred to the
"millions at risk," ignoring that the same study then suggested
greatly reduced consequences for those millions due to the ability
of humans to adapt to change.
Throughout his report, in fact, Sir Nicholas not only assumed worst
possible cases, he also assumed that humans are passive creatures,
devoid of ingenuity, who would be helpless victims to changes in the
world around them.
Such assumptions underpinned Sir Nicholas's claim
"the overall costs and risks of climate change will be
equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and
forever," and led Tol to view Sir Nicholas's conclusions as
"The Stern review can therefore be
dismissed as alarmist and incompetent."
Tol and Sir Nicholas are worlds apart, and not just because of Sir
Nicholas's recklessness with the facts.
Where Sir Nicholas paints an
altogether bleak picture, Tol's is far more nuanced:
creates benefits as well as harms, he explains, and in the short
term, the benefits are especially pronounced.
More important, Tol is a student of human innovation and adaptation.
As a native of the Netherlands, he is intimately familiar with dikes
and other low-cost adaptive technologies, and the ability of humans
in meeting challenges in their environment. To assume that humans in
the future would not use their ingenuity and resourcefulness in
sensible ways defies the history of mankind and ultimately serves no
Yes, global warming is real, he believes, and yes, measures to
mitigate it should be taken.
But unlike the advocates who believe
that the science is settled, and the global warning debate is over, Tol thinks that much research needs to be done before we know how
best to respond.
"There is no risk of damage [from global warming] that would force
us to act injudiciously," he explains. "We've got enough time to
look for the economically most effective options, rather than dash
into 'actionism,' which then becomes very expensive."
Back to Contents
The hurricane expert who stood up to UN junk science
December 8, 2006
You're a respected scientist, one of the best in your field.
respected, in fact, that when
the United Nations decided to study
the relationship between hurricanes and global warming for the
largest scientific endeavor in its history - its International
Panel on Climate Change - it called upon you and your expertise.
You are Christopher Landsea of the Atlantic Oceanographic &
Meteorological Laboratory. You were a contributing author for the UN's second International Panel on Climate Change in 1995, writing
the sections on observed changes in tropical cyclones around the
world. Then the IPCC called on you as a contributing author once
more, for its "Third Assessment Report" in 2001.
And you were
invited to participate yet again, when the IPCC called on you to be
an author in the "Fourth Assessment Report." This report would
specifically focus on Atlantic hurricanes, your specialty, and be
published by the IPCC in 2007.
Then something went horribly wrong. Within days of this last
invitation, in October, 2004, you discovered that the IPCC's Kevin
Trenberth - the very person who had invited you - was
participating in a press conference.
The title of the press
conference perplexed you:
"Experts to warn global warming likely to
continue spurring more outbreaks of intense hurricane activity."
This was some kind of mistake, you were certain.
You had not done
any work that substantiated this claim. Nobody had.
As perplexing, none of the participants in that press conference
were known for their hurricane expertise. In fact, to your
knowledge, none had performed any research at all on hurricane
variability, the subject of the press conference. Neither were they
reporting on any new work in the field.
All previous and current
research in the area of hurricane variability, you knew, showed no
reliable upward trend in the frequency or intensity of hurricanes.
Not in the Atlantic basin. Not in any other basin.
To add to the utter incomprehensibility of the press conference, the
IPCC itself, in both 1995 and 2001, had found no global warming
signal in the hurricane record. And until your new work would come
out, in 2007, the IPCC would not have a new analysis on which to
base a change of findings.
To stop the press conference, or at least stop any misunderstandings
that might come out of it, you contacted Dr. Trenberth prior to the
media event. You prepared a synopsis for him that brought him up to
date on the state of knowledge about hurricane formation.
amazement, he simply dismissed your concerns. The press conference
And what a press conference it was! Hurricanes had been all over the
news that summer. Global warming was the obvious culprit - only a
fool or an oil-industry lobbyist, the press made clear, could ignore
the link between what seemed to be ever increasing hurricane
activity and ever increasing global warming. The press conference
didn't disappoint them.
The climate change experts at hand all
confirmed the news that the public had been primed to hear: Global
warming was causing hurricanes.
This judgment from the scientists
made headlines around the world, just as it was intended to do. What
better way to cast global warming as catastrophic than to make
hurricanes its poster child?
You wanted to right this outrageous wrong, this mockery that was
made of your scientific field.
You wrote top IPCC officials,
"Where is the science, the refereed publications, that
substantiate these pronouncements? What studies are being alluded to
that have shown a connection between observed warming trends on the
earth and long-term trends in tropical cyclone activity? As far as I
know, there are none."
But no one in the IPCC leadership showed the
slightest concern for the science. The IPCC's overriding
preoccupation, it soon sunk in, lay in capitalizing on the publicity
opportunity that the hurricane season presented.
You then asked the IPCC leadership for assurances that your work for
the IPCC's 2007 report would be true to science:
seems to have already come to the conclusion that global warming has
altered hurricane activity and has publicly stated so. This does not
reflect the consensus within the hurricane research community...
Thus I would like assurance that what will be included in the IPCC
report will reflect the best available information and the consensus
within the scientific community most expert on the specific topic."
The assurance didn't come. What did come was the realization that
the IPCC was corrupting science.
This you could not be a party to.
You then resigned, in an open letter to the scientific community
laying out your reasons.
Next year, the IPCC will come out with its "Fourth Assessment
Report," and for the first time in a decade, you will not be writing
its section on hurricanes. That task will be left to the successor
that Dr. Trenberth chose.
As part of his responsibility, he will
need to explain why - despite all expectations - the 2006
hurricane year was so unexpectedly light, and at the historical
average for the past 150 years.
Back to Contents
Polar scientists on thin ice
December 15, 2006
A great melt is on in Antarctica. Its northern peninsula - a jut of
land extending to about 1,200 kilometers from Chile - has seen a
drastic increase in temperature, a thinning of ice sheets and, most
alarmingly, a collapse of ice shelves.
Larsen A ice shelf, 1,600
square kilometers in size, fell off in 1995. The
Wilkins ice shelf,
1,100 square kilometers, fell off in 1998 and the Larsen B, 13,500
square kilometers, dropped off in 2002. Meanwhile, the northern
Antarctic Peninsula's temperatures have soared by six degrees
Celsius in the last 50 years.
Antarctica represents the greatest threat to the globe from global
warming, bar none.
If Antarctica's ice melts, the world's oceans
will rise, flooding low-lying lands where much of the world's
population lives. Not only would their mass migration spawn
hardships for the individual families retreating from the rising
waters, the world would also be losing fertile deltas that feed tens
of millions of people.
This chilling scenario understandably sends
shudders through concerned citizens around the world, and steels the
resolve of those determined to stop the cataclysm of global warming.
But much confounding evidence exists.
As one example, at the South
Pole, where the U.S. decades ago established a station, temperatures
have actually fallen since 1957. Neither is Antarctica's advance or
retreat a new question raised by the spectre of global warming: This
is the oldest scientific question of all about the Antarctic ice
Enter Duncan Wingham, Professor of Climate Physics at University
College London and Director of the Centre for Polar Observation and
Modeling. Dr. Wingham has been pursuing this polar puzzle for much
of his professional life and, but for an accident in space, he might
have had the answer at hand by now.
Dr. Wingham is Principal Scientist of the European Space Agency's
CryoSat Satellite Mission, a $130-million project designed to map
changes in the depth of ice using ultra-precise instrumentation.
Sadly for Dr. Wingham and for science as a whole, CryoSat fell into
the Arctic Ocean after its launch in October, 2005, when a rocket
Dr Wingham will now need to wait until 2009
before CryoSat-2, CryoSat's even more precise successor, can launch
and begin relaying the data that should conclusively determine
whether Antarctica's ice sheets are thinning or not. Apart from
satellite technology, no known way exists to reliably determine
changes in mass over a vast and essentially unexplorable continent
covered in ice several kilometers thick.
But CryoSat was not the only satellite available to polar
scientists. Dr. Wingham has been collecting satellite data for
years, and arriving at startling conclusions.
Early last year at a
European Union Space Conference in Brussels, for example, Dr. Wingham revealed that data from a European Space Agency satellite
showed Antarctic thinning was no more common than thickening, and
concluded that the spectacular collapse of the ice shelves on the
Antarctic Peninsula was much more likely to have followed natural
current fluctuations than global warming.
"The Antarctic Peninsula is exceptional because it juts out so far
north," Dr. Wingham told the press at the time.
As well, scientists
have been drawn to the peninsula because it is relatively accessible
and its climate is moderate, allowing it to be more easily studied
than the harsh interior of the continent.
Because many scientists
have been preoccupied with what was, in effect, the tip of the
iceberg, they missed the mass of evidence that lay beneath the
"One cannot be certain, because packets of heat in the atmosphere do
not come conveniently labeled 'the contribution of anthropogenic
warming,'" Dr. Wingham elaborated, but the evidence is not "favorable
to the notion we are seeing the results of global warming".
Last summer, Dr. Wingham and three colleagues published an article
in the journal of the Royal Society that casts further doubt on the
notion that global warming is adversely affecting Antarctica.
studying satellite data from 1992 to 2003 that surveyed 85% of the
East Antarctic ice sheet and 51% of the West Antarctic ice sheet
(72% of the ice sheet covering the entire land mass), they
discovered that the Antarctic ice sheet is growing at the rate of 5
millimeters per year (plus or minus 1 mm per year). That makes
Antarctica a sink, not a source, of ocean water.
According to their
best estimates, Antarctica will "lower global sea
levels by 0.08 mm" per year.
If these findings are validated in future by CryoSat-2 and other
developments that are able to assess the 28% of Antarctica not yet
surveyed, the low-lying areas of the world will have weathered the
worst of the global warming predictions:
The populations of these
areas - in Bangladesh, in the Maldives, and elsewhere - will have
found that, if anything, they can look forward to a future with more
nutrient-rich seacoast, not less.
Back to Contents
The original denier - into the cold
December 22, 2006
Most scientists who are labeled as "deniers" for their views on
global warming don't embrace this role.
They cringe at the thought
of disagreeing with colleagues who think that the science is
settled, they do their best to avoid making waves, and they fear
being marginalized as cranks who disagree with the scientific
Richard Lindzen is an exception.
Dr. Lindzen is one of the original deniers - among the first to
criticize the scientific bureaucracy, and scientists themselves, for
claims about global warming that he views as unfounded and alarmist.
While he does not welcome the role he's acquired, he also does not
shrink from it. Dr. Lindzen takes his protests about the abuse of
science to the public, to the press, and to government.
His detractors can't dismiss him as a crank from the fringe,
however, much as they might wish.
Dr. Lindzen is a critic from
within, one of the most distinguished climate scientists in the
a past professor at the University of Chicago and Harvard
the Alfred P. Sloan professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology
a member of the National Academy of
a lead author in a landmark
report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change, the very organization that established
global warming as an issue of paramount importance
Dr. Lindzen is proud of his contribution, and that of his
colleagues, to the IPCC chapter they worked on.
His pride in this
work matches his dismay at seeing it misrepresented.
reading and coverage of the IPCC is restricted to the highly
publicized Summaries for Policymakers which are written by
representatives from governments, NGOs and business; the full
reports, written by participating scientists, are largely ignored,"
he told the United States Senate committee on environment and public
works in 2001.
These unscientific summaries, often written to
further political or business agendas, then become the basis of
As an example, Dr. Lindzen provided the committee with the summary
that was created for Chapter 7, which he worked on.
of climate processes and their incorporation in climate models have
improved, including water vapor, sea-ice dynamics, and ocean heat
transport," the summary stated, creating the impression that the
climate models were reliable.
The actual report by the scientists
indicated just the opposite. Dr. Lindzen testified that the
"found numerous problems with model treatments
- including those of clouds and water vapor."
When the IPCC was stung by criticism that the summaries were being
written with little or no input by the scientists themselves, the
IPCC had a subset of the scientists review a subsequent draft
summary - an improvement in the process.
Except that the final
version, when later released at a Shanghai press conference, had
surprising changes to the draft that scientists had seen.
The version that emerged from Shanghai concludes,
"In the light of
new evidence and taking into account the remaining uncertainties,
most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to
have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations."
the draft was rife with qualifiers making it clear the science was
very much in doubt because,
"the accuracy of these estimates
continues to be limited by uncertainties in estimates of internal
variability, natural and anthropogenic forcing, and the climate
response to external forcing."
The summaries' distortion of the IPCC chapters compounds another
distortion that occurred in the very writing of the scientific
Dr. Lindzen's description of the conditions
under which the climate scientists worked conjures up a scene worthy
of a totalitarian state:
"throughout the drafting sessions, IPCC
'coordinators' would go around insisting that criticism of models be
toned down, and that 'motherhood' statements be inserted to the
effect that models might still be correct despite the cited faults.
Refusals were occasionally met with ad hominem attacks. I personally
witnessed coauthors forced to assert their 'green' credentials in
defense of their statements."
To better understand the issue of climate change, including the
controversies over the IPCC summary documents, the White House asked
the National Academy of Sciences, the country's premier scientific
organization, to assemble a panel on climate change.
The 11 members
of the panel, which included Richard Lindzen, concluded that the
science is far from settled:
"Because there is considerable
uncertainty in current understanding of how the climate system
varies naturally and reacts to emissions of greenhouse gases and
aerosols, current estimates of the magnitude of future warming
should be regarded as tentative and subject to future adjustments
(either upward or downward)."
The press's spin on
the NAS report?
CNN, in language typical of
other reportage, stated that it represented,
"a unanimous decision
that global warming is real, is getting worse, and is due to man.
There is no wiggle room."
Despite such obtuseness Lindzen fights on, defending the science at
what is undoubtedly a very considerable personal cost. Those who toe
the party line are publicly praised and have grants ladled out to
them from a funding pot that overflows with US$1.7-billion per year
in the U.S. alone.
As Lindzen wrote earlier this year
in The Wall
"there is a more sinister side to this feeding
frenzy. Scientists who dissent from the alarmism have seen their
grant funds disappear, their work derided, and themselves libeled as
industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse. Consequently, lies
about climate change gain credence even when they fly in the face of
the science that supposedly is their basis."
Back to Contents
The sun moves climate change
January 5, 2007
Man produces greenhouse gases and greenhouse gases cause global
most scientists agree, but how, exactly, do greenhouse
gases cause global warming?
While theories abound, as do elaborate
computer models incorporating a multitude of gases and other
climatic factors, none has been conclusive. And if greenhouse gases
aren't responsible, what else could be?
A clear, verifiable
mechanism showing how a greenhouse gas or other physical entity can
drive climate change has eluded science. Until now.
For more than a decade, Henrik Svensmark of the Danish National
Space Center has been pursuing an explanation for why Earth cools
and warms. His findings - published in October in the Proceedings
of the Royal Society - the mathematical, physical sciences and
engineering journal of the Royal Society of London - are now in,
and they don't point to us.
The sun and the stars could explain most
if not all of the warming this century, and he has laboratory
results to demonstrate it.
Dr. Svensmark's study had its origins in
1996, when he and a colleague presented findings at a scientific
conference indicating that
changes in the sun's magnetic field - quite apart from greenhouse gases
- could be related to the recent
rise in global temperatures.
The chairman of the United Nations
Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change, the chief agency
investigating global warming, then castigated them in the press,
"I find the move from this pair scientifically extremely
naive and irresponsible."
Others accused them of denouncing the
greenhouse theory, something they had not done.
Svensmark and his colleague had arrived at their theory after
examining data that showed a surprisingly strong correlation between
cosmic rays - highspeed atomic particles originating in exploded
stars in the Milky Way - and low-altitude clouds. Earth's cloud
cover increased when the intensity of cosmic rays grew and decreased
when the intensity declined.
Low-altitude clouds are significant because they especially shield
the Earth from the sun to keep us cool.
Low cloud cover can vary by
2% in five years, affecting the Earth's surface by as much as 1.2
watts per square meter during that same period.
"That figure can be
compared with about 1.4 watts per square metre estimated by the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the greenhouse effect
of all the increase in carbon dioxide in the air since the
Industrial Revolution," Dr. Svensmark explained.
The Danish scientists put together several well-established
scientific phenomena to arrive at their novel 1996 theory.
magnetic field deflects some of the cosmic rays that penetrate the
Earth's atmosphere, and in so doing it also limits the immense
amounts of ions and free electrons that the cosmic rays produce. But
something had changed in the 20th century: The sun's magnetic field
more than doubled in strength, deflecting an extraordinary number of
Could the diminution of cosmic rays this century have limited
the formation of clouds, making the Earth warmer?
That was a plausible theory. But exactly how cosmic rays might
create clouds was a mystery - an unprovable theory, many said. Some
even claimed that it was inconceivable for cosmic rays to influence
To discover a mechanism, a team at the Danish National Space Center
assembled by Dr. Svensmark undertook an elaborate laboratory
experiment in a reaction chamber the size of a small room. The team
duplicated the chemistry of the lower atmosphere by injecting the
gases found there in the same proportions, and adding ultraviolet
rays to mimic the actions of the sun.
What they found left them agape: A vast number of floating
microscopic droplets soon filled the reaction chamber.
ultra-small clusters of sulphuric acid and water molecules - the
building blocks for cloud condensation nuclei - that had been
catalyzed by the electrons released by cosmic rays.
"We were amazed by the speed and efficiency with which the electrons
do their work," Dr. Svensmark remarked.
For the first time ever,
researchers had experimentally identified a causal mechanism by
which cosmic rays can facilitate the production of clouds in Earth's
"This is a completely new result within climate
Dr. Svensmark has never disputed the existence of greenhouse gases
and the greenhouse effect.
To the contrary, he believes that an
understanding of the sun's role is needed to learn the full story,
and thus determine man's role. Not only does no climate model today
consider the effect of cosmic particles, but even clouds are too
poorly understood to be incorporated into any serious climate model.
Because of the work of Dr. Svensmark, other agencies are now
building on the Danish findings.
CERN (Conseil Européen pour la
Recherche Nucléaire) in Geneva , has just started a multi-phase project
that begins with a rerun of the Danish experiment, only CERN will
use an accelerator rather than relying on natural cosmic rays.
multinational project will provide scientists with a permanent
facility for studying effects of cosmic rays and charged particles
in the Earth's atmosphere.
The clouds may be lifting on scientific inquiry into climate change.
Back to Contents
Will the sun cool us?
January 12, 2007
The science is settled" on climate change, say most scientists in
They believe that man-made emissions of greenhouse gases
are heating the globe to dangerous levels and that, in the coming
steadily increasing temperatures will melt the polar ice
caps and flood the world's low-lying coastal areas.
Apology To Dr. Nigel Weiss
Nigel Weiss, professor of astrophysics at the University of
Cambridge, believes that the warming trend in Earth's climate is
caused by greenhouse gases produced by human activity, and that the
effect of a potential future reduction in solar activity would not
reverse or cancel out that trend, but might have a small effect in
He has held these views for several years. Incorrect
information appeared in a column in the Financial Post on Feb. 2.
The National Post withdraws any allegation that Dr. Weiss is a
global warming "denier" and regrets the embarrassment caused him by
the Feb. 2 column and a further column on Feb. 9.
Don't tell that to Nigel Weiss,
Professor Emeritus at the Department
of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of
Cambridge, past President of the Royal Astronomical Society, and a
scientist as honored as they come.
The science is anything but
settled, he observes, except for one virtual certainty: The world is
about to enter a cooling period.
Dr. Weiss believes that man-made greenhouse gases have recently had
a role in warming the earth, although the extent of that role, he
says, cannot yet be known.
What is known, however, is that
throughout earth's history climate change has been driven by factors
other than man:
"Variable behavior of the sun is an obvious
explanation," says Dr. Weiss, "and there is increasing evidence that
Earth's climate responds to
changing patterns of solar magnetic
The sun's most obvious magnetic features are sunspots, formed as
magnetic fields rip through the sun's surface. A magnetically active
sun boosts the number of sunspots, indicating that vast amounts of
energy are being released from deep within.
Typically, sunspots flare up and settle down in cycles of about 11
years. In the last 50 years, we haven't been living in typical
"If you look back into the sun's past, you find that we live
in a period of abnormally high solar activity," Dr. Weiss states.
These hyperactive periods do not last long,
"perhaps 50 to 100
years, then you get a crash," says Dr. Weiss. 'It's a boom-bust
system, and I would expect a crash soon."
In addition to the 11-year cycle, sunspots almost entirely "crash,"
or die out, every 200 years or so as solar activity diminishes. When
the crash occurs, the Earth can cool dramatically.
Dr. Weiss knows
because these phenomenon, known as "Grand minima," have recurred
over the past 10,000 years, if not longer.
"The deeper the crash, the longer it will last," Dr. Weiss explains.
In the 17th century, sunspots almost completely disappeared for 70
That was the coldest interval of the Little Ice Age, when New
York Harbour froze, allowing walkers to journey from Manhattan to
Staten Island, and when Viking colonies abandoned Greenland, a once
verdant land that became tundra.
Also in the
Little Ice Age, Finland
lost one-third of its population, Iceland half.
The previous cooling period lasted 150 years while a minor crash at
the beginning of the 19th century was accompanied by a cooling
period that lasted only 30 years.
In contrast, when the sun is very active, such as the period we're
now in, the Earth can warm dramatically. This was the case during
Medieval Warm Period, when the Vikings first colonized Greenland
and when Britain was wine-growing country.
No one knows precisely when a crash will occur but some expect it
soon, because the sun's polar field is now at its weakest since
measurements began in the early 1950s. Some predict the crash within
five years, and many speculate about its effect on global warming.
mild crash could be beneficial, in giving us Earthlings the decades
needed to reverse our greenhouse gas producing ways.
speculate that the recent global warming may be a blessing in
disguise, big-time, by moderating the negative consequences of what
might otherwise be a deep chill following a deep crash. During the
Little Ice Age, scientists estimate, global temperatures on average
may have dropped by less than 1 degree Celsius, showing the
potential consequences of even an apparently small decline.
Dr. Weiss prefers not to speculate. He sees the coming crash as an
opportunity to obtain the knowledge necessary to make informed
decisions on climate change, and the extent to which man-made
emissions have been a factor.
"Having a crash would certainly allow us to pin down the sun's true
level of influence on the Earth's climate," concludes Dr. Weiss.
Then we will be able to act on fact, rather than from fear.
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The limits of predictability
January 19, 2007
When Frans Nieuwstadt, a distinguished Dutch meteorologist,
engineer, editor and professor, died in 2005, his obituary recounted
seminal events in his accomplished life.
Among the experiences
worthy of mention:
Nieuwstadt had studied under the celebrated
professor, Henk Tennekes, and along with other colleagues had been
instrumental in convincing Tennekes to return to Europe in 1978 to
become director of research at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological
Institute and later chairman of the august Scientific Advisory
Committee of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.
Henk Tennekes, in ways both personal and professional, has touched
an extraordinary number of lives in his own distinguished career,
among academics and laymen alike.
He is loved for his popular 1997
The Simple Science of Flight From Insects to Jumbo Jets, and
for his scholarly 1972 work,
A First Course in Turbulence, a classic
that logs more than 2,000 citations on Google Scholar.
provocative 1986 speech,
"No Forecast Is Complete Without A Forecast
of Forecast Skill," led to the now-common discipline of "ensemble
forecasting" and spurred "multi-model forecasting."
continue to wrestle with the fundamental critiques that he first
Tennekes became more than an inspiration for his students and a
model for other scientists, however. He also became an object lesson
in the limits of scientific inquiry. Because his critiques of
climate science ran afoul of the orthodoxy required by the Royal
Netherlands Meteorological Institute, he was forced to leave. Lesser
scientists, seeing that even a man of Tennekes's reputation was not
free to voice dissent, learned their lesson.
Ever since, most
scientists who harbour doubts about climate science bite their
tongues and keep their heads down.
Tennekes, more than any other individual, challenged the models that
climate scientists were constructing, saying models could never
replicate the complexity of the real world. What was needed was a
different approach to science, one that recognized inherent limits
in such scientific tools and aimed less to regulate the environment.
In a landmark speech to the American Meteorological Society in 1986,
he argued that meteorology was poised to be the first of the post-Newtonian sciences because it was,
"at odds with the mainstream of
the scientific enterprise of the last 300 years. One goal of science
is to control nature, but we know we cannot control the weather. The
goal of science is prediction, but we stand in front of the limits
Meteorology, in other words, would be the first scientific
discipline to hit this brick wall.
As Tennekes argued, modern theory,
"unequivocally predicts that no amount of improvement in the quality
of the observation network or in the power of computers will improve
the average useful forecast range by more than a few days."
Since Tennekes' speech, a host of scientists have sought to extend
the bounds of modeling. They have seen success, but only on the
scale Tennekes predicted.
In a paper presented in 2003, a team of European scientists detailed
advances in modeling science.
"Since the day, almost 20 years ago,
in which Henk Tennekes stated… that 'no forecast is complete
without a forecast of the forecast skill,' the demand for numerical
forecasting tools... has been ever increasing," they said,
explaining efforts to make modeling reliable beyond a three- to
Thanks to the intense efforts of a new generation
of climate modelers, modeling capability has advanced in some
instances by 12 to 36 hours, in others by several days.
the bounds further, the paper announced a major new research
initiative, designed to bring the forecasting discipline to the
Climate modeling is the basis of forecasts of climate change.
this modeling, Tennekes believes, has little utility, and,
no chance at all that the physical sciences can produce a
universally accepted scientific basis for policy measures concerning
Moreover, he states:
"There exists no sound
theoretical framework for climate predictability studies."
Not surprisingly, Tennekes abhors the dogma that he feels
characterizes the climate-change establishment, and the untoward
role of climate science in public-policy making.
"We only understand
10% of the climate issue. That is not enough to wreck the world
economy with Kyoto-like measures."
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Look to Mars for the truth on global warming
February 2, 2007
Climate change is a much, much bigger issue than
politicians, and even the most alarmed environmentalists realize.
Climate change is a much, much bigger issue than the public,
politicians, and even the most alarmed environmentalists realize.
Global warming extends to Mars, where the polar ice cap is
shrinking, where deep gullies in the landscape are now laid bare,
and where the climate is the warmest it has been in decades or
"One explanation could be that Mars is just coming out of an ice
age," NASA scientist William Feldman speculated after the agency's
Mars Odyssey completed its first Martian year of data collection.
"In some low-latitude areas, the ice has already dissipated."
each passing year more and more evidence arises of the dramatic
changes occurring on the only planet on the solar system, apart from
Earth, to give up its climate secrets.
NASA's findings in space come as no surprise to Dr.
Abdussamatov at Saint Petersburg's Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory.
Pulkovo - at the pinnacle of Russia's space-oriented scientific
establishment - is one of the world's best equipped observatories
and has been since its founding in 1839.
Heading Pulkovo's space
research laboratory is Dr. Abdussamatov, one of the world's chief
critics of the theory that man-made carbon dioxide emissions create
a greenhouse effect, leading to global warming.
"Mars has global warming, but without a greenhouse and without the
participation of Martians," he told me. "These parallel global
warmings - observed simultaneously on Mars and on Earth - can only
be a straightline consequence of the effect of the one same factor:
a long-time change in solar irradiance."
The sun's increased irradiance over the last century, not
CO2 emissions, is responsible for the global warming we're seeing, says
the celebrated scientist, and this solar irradiance also explains
the great volume of CO2 emissions.
"It is no secret that increased solar irradiance warms Earth's
oceans, which then triggers the emission of large amounts of carbon
dioxide into the atmosphere. So the common view that man's
industrial activity is a deciding factor in global warming has
emerged from a misinterpretation of cause and effect relations."
Dr. Abdussamatov goes further, debunking the very notion of a
"Ascribing 'greenhouse' effect properties to the
Earth's atmosphere is not scientifically substantiated," he
maintains. "Heated greenhouse gases, which become lighter as a
result of expansion, ascend to the atmosphere only to give the
absorbed heat away."
The real news from Saint Petersburg - demonstrated by cooling that
is occurring on the upper layers of the world's oceans - is that
Earth has hit its temperature ceiling.
Solar irradiance has begun to
fall, ushering in a protracted cooling period beginning in 2012 to
2015. The depth of the decline in solar irradiance reaching Earth
will occur around 2040, and "will inevitably lead to a deep freeze
around 2055-60" lasting some 50 years, after which temperatures will
go up again.
Because of the scientific significance of this period of global
cooling that we're about to enter, the Russian and Ukrainian space
agencies, under Dr. Abdussamatov's leadership, have launched a joint
project to determine the time and extent of the global cooling at
The project, dubbed
Astrometry and given priority
space-experiment status on the Russian portion of the International
Space Station, will marshal the resources of spacecraft manufacturer Energia, several Russian research and production centers, and the
main observatory of Ukraine's Academy of Sciences.
By late next
year, scientific equipment will have been installed in a
space-station module and by early 2009, Dr. Abdussamatov's space
team will be conducting a regular survey of the sun.
With the data, the project will help mankind cope with a century of
falling temperatures, during which we will enter a mini ice age.
"There is no need for the Kyoto Protocol now. It does not have to
come into force until at least 100 years from no w," Dr.
Abdussamatov concluded. "A global freeze will come about regardless
of whether or not industrialized countries put a cap on their
greenhouse- gas emissions."
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Limited role for CO2
February 2, 2007
I realized that things are far more complicated than
the story sold
to us by many climate scientists or the stories regurgitated by the
Astrophysicist Nir Shariv, one of Israel's top young scientists,
describes the logic that led him - and most everyone else - to
conclude that SUVs, coal plants and other things man-made cause
Step One - Scientists for decades have postulated that increases in
carbon dioxide and other gases could lead to a greenhouse effect.
Step Two - As if on cue, the temperature rose over the course of the
20th century while greenhouse gases proliferated due to human
Step Three - No other mechanism explains the warming. Without another
candidate, greenhouses gases necessarily became the cause.
Dr. Shariv, a prolific researcher who has made a name for himself
assessing the movements of two-billion-year-old meteorites, no
longer accepts this logic, or subscribes to these views.
"Like many others, I was personally sure that CO2 is the
bad culprit in the story of global warming. But after carefully
digging into the evidence, I realized that things are far more
complicated than the story sold to us by many climate scientists or
the stories regurgitated by the media.
"In fact, there is much more than meets the eye."
Dr. Shariv's digging led him to the surprising discovery that there
is no concrete evidence - only speculation - that man-made
greenhouse gases cause global warming.
Even research from the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -
the United Nations
agency that heads the worldwide effort to combat global warming - is bereft of anything here inspiring confidence. In fact, according
to the IPCC's own findings, man's role is so uncertain that there is
a strong possibility that we have been cooling, not warming, the
Unfortunately, our tools are too crude to reveal what man's
effect has been in the past, let alone predict how much warming or
cooling we might cause in the future.
All we have on which to pin the blame on greenhouse gases, says Dr.
Shaviv, is "incriminating circumstantial evidence," which explains
why climate scientists speak in terms of finding "evidence of
Circumstantial evidence might be a fine basis on
which to justify reducing greenhouse gases, he adds, "without other
However, Dr. Shaviv not only believes there are
credible "other suspects," he believes that at least one provides a
superior explanation for the 20th century's warming.
"Solar activity can explain a large part of the 20th-century global
warming," he states, particularly because of the evidence that has
been accumulating over the past decade of the strong relationship
that cosmic- ray flux has on our atmosphere.
So much evidence has by
now been amassed, in fact, that,
"it is unlikely that [the solar
climate link] does not exist."
The sun's strong role indicates that greenhouse gases can't have
much of an influence on the climate - that CO2 et al. don't
dominate through some kind of leveraging effect that makes them
especially potent drivers of climate change.
The upshot of the Earth
not being unduly sensitive to greenhouse gases is that neither
increases nor cutbacks in future CO2 emissions will matter much in
terms of the climate.
Even doubling the amount of CO2 by 2100, for example,
dramatically increase the global temperature," Dr. Shaviv states.
Put another way:
"Even if we halved the CO2 output, and the CO2
increase by 2100 would be, say, a 50% increase relative to today
instead of a doubled amount, the expected reduction in the rise of
global temperature would be less than 0.5°C. This is not
The evidence from astrophysicists and cosmologists in laboratories
around the world, on the other hand, could well be significant.
his study of meteorites, published in the prestigious journal,
Physical Review Letters, Dr. Shaviv found that the meteorites that
Earth collected during its passage through the arms of the Milky Way
sustained up to 10% more cosmic ray damage than others.
That kind of
cosmic ray variation, Dr. Shaviv believes, could alter global
temperatures by as much as 15% - sufficient to turn the ice ages on
or off and evidence of the extent to which cosmic forces influence
In another study, directly relevant to today's climate controversy,
Dr. Shaviv reconstructed the temperature on Earth over the past 550
million years to find that cosmic ray flux variations explain more
than two-thirds of Earth's temperature variance, making it the most
dominant climate driver over geological time scales.
The study also
found that an upper limit can be placed on the relative role of CO2
as a climate driver, meaning that a large fraction of the global
warming witnessed over the past century could not be due to CO2
- instead it is attributable to the increased solar activity.
CO2 does play a role in climate, Dr. Shaviv believes, but
a secondary role, one too small to preoccupy policymakers.
Yet Dr. Shaviv also believes fossil fuels should be controlled, not because
of their adverse affects on climate but to curb pollution.
"I am therefore in favor of developing cheap alternatives such as
solar power, wind, and of course
fusion reactors (converting
Deuterium into Helium), which we should have in a few decades, but
this is an altogether different issue."
"I am quite
Kyoto is not the right way to go."
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