Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Global warming consensus


David Reinhard

Maybe you've noticed this, too. The less sure people are of their views, the more inclined they are to name-call, yell and bully. I've noticed this when it comes to religion and politics and life in general, but I've had trouble getting used to it when it comes to science.

Science is supposed to be about irreducible facts, the discipline of the scientific method, repeatable experiments, rigorous analysis and solid conclusions rather than sound bites, insults, threats and public relations campaigns. But look at global warming and climate change.

The Weather Channel's top climatologist says broadcast meteorologists who voice skepticism about man-made climate change should be stripped of their certification. A renewable energy lobbyist writes an e-mail to a climate change skeptic saying he intends "to destroy your career." The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's James Hansen, a global warming guru, calls skeptics "court jesters," and Al Gore likens them to "flat-Earth" advocates. The bid to enforce a global warming consensus has added "climate-change deniers" to our lexicon. You know, like "Holocaust deniers."

Curious. Why all the loaded verbiage? Why the insistence on consensus in an arena that relies on challenging conventional wisdom? Why all the anger?

Why, indeed. This past week witnessed the great breakup not of the icebergs, but of the global warming consensus. What's existed beneath the surface, apparent to those who dug, exploded into public view.

"With this issue . . . we kick off a debate concerning one of the main conclusions of the [the United Nations] International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) . . .," wrote Jeffrey Marque, editor of The American Physical Society's Physics & Society forum. "There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for the global warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution."

Imagine, a debate because a considerable presence within the scientific community disputes that man-made (anthropogenic) emissions are primarily responsible for global warming. Either court jesters and flat-Earthers are making a comeback or the climate change consensus isn't what it's cracked up to be. I'll bet on the latter. Marque kicks off the debate with the publication of a paper by Britain's Christopher Monckton on the IPCC's errors and exaggerations in estimating the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on the rate of temperature change.

Elsewhere, a former climate change alarmist detailed what you might call his change of science. David Evans was a consultant to the "Australian Greenhouse Office" from 1999 to 2005. He helped craft the carbon accounting model measuring Australia's Kyoto Protocol compliance.

"When I started that job in 1999 the evidence that carbon emissions caused global warming seemed pretty good . . .," he wrote recently in The Australian. "The evidence was not conclusive, but why wait until we were certain when it appeared we needed to act quickly? . . . But since 1999 new evidence has seriously weakened the case that carbon emissions are the main cause of global warming, and by 2007 the evidence was pretty conclusive that carbon played only a minor role and was not the main cause of the recent global warming."

Evans notes a few telling facts: One, scientists have looked for hot spots in the atmosphere -- places where a possible cause of global warming occurs first and most -- and have found . . . none: "If there is no hot spot then an increased greenhouse effect is not the cause of global warming." Two, he points out what scientists have found: Ice-core samples showing the six global warmings over the past half-million years occurred an average of 800 years before any uptick in atmospheric carbon, satellite temperature readings showing the recent warming trend ended in 2001, and the temperature has fallen about 0.6 C in the past year -- to the 1980 level.

But isn't the sky falling or, at least, the Arctic ice melting? According to the latest data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, "sea ice extent" on July 16 was 3.44 million square miles -- a half-million square miles more than what it was in July 2007.

The only thing that's heating up, it seems, is the debate about global warming, and a good thing, too.

Maybe it's time we all chill out.

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