A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Climates of opinion, or questions, questions, questions.....

In 2000, Professor S. Fred Singer listed a large number of queries about climate change (see: 'Global warming: unfinished business').

Interestingly, few of these serious questions have been satisfactorily answered during the intervening period. Indeed, many have even been bolstered by recent scientific and economic research. However, the idea that there is a scientific consensus over climate change remains a dangerous myth. Good science above all admits what it does not know. In the light of the current hysteria over 'global warming' in the UK, therefore, I am repeating some of the more interesting questions that Fred raised here (with a few small additions of my own). Moreover, this is timely, because Fred is due to be interviewed about the dire film, The Day after Tomorrow, on the ever-excellent The Jeremy Vine Show (BBC Radio 2) this coming Friday. Do not miss it (around 12.30 pm, I believe).

Climates of opinion: re-iterating Fred's concerns

Climate science is not "settled" - it is both uncertain and incomplete. The available observations do not all support the mathematical models that predict a substantial global warming and form the basis for a control policy on greenhouse (GH) gas emissions. Many Russian scientists, for example, remain highly sceptical about the models. We need a more targeted program of climate research to settle a whole range of major scientific issues.

1) The fate and control of anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere is uncertain: its uptake into the oceans; the biological pump; the missing carbon sinks. The future growth of atmospheric CO2 depends crucially on estimates of residence time and of the amount of fossil fuels likely to be used for energy production. Some researchers suggest an 8x pre-industrial value, while others doubt whether CO2 will even double. New research has now cast doubt on the whole economics behind much of the modelling;

2) The temperature record of the last two hundred years is of poor and varied quality and shows many discrepancies. Surface temperatures disagree with recent measurements from satellites and balloons. The 'urban heat island' effect may skew the record, and current methods to account for this effect have been criticised only recently; systems of measurement have varied greatly throughout the period, and remain particularly poor with respect to the air over the oceans;

3) General Circulation Models (GCMs) vary by 300% in their temperature forecasts, require arbitrary adjustments, and cannot handle crucial meso-scale and micro-scale cloud processes. Their forecasts of substantial warming depend on a positive feedback from atmospheric water vapor (WV);

4) GCMs cannot account for past observations: the temperature rise between 1920 to 1940, the cooling to 1975, and the absence of warming in the satellite record since 1979. Various explanations need to be explored: reduced positive feedback from WV; increase in cloudiness; the cosmic ray flux (CRF); anthropogenic aerosols; human-made landscape changes; increasing air traffic; solar variations influencing climate;

5) Prehistoric climate fluctuations, on timescales as rapid as a decade, are prevalent - as judged in the data from tree rings, sediments, and ice cores. Such climate events are not explained by existing models, nor can current GCMs account for El-Nino events, the North Atlantic Oscillation, and other contemporary rapid changes in climate;

6) Sea level (SL) rise is a major feared impact of a future warming. It seems likely, however, that increased evaporation from the ocean may lead to more rapid accumulation of polar ice and a lowering of sea level. This possibility is supported by an observed inverse correlation between SL rate of rise and tropical sea-surface temperature (SST). Real-world sea-level curves show no rising eustatic sea-level;

7) Severe storms and hurricanes have diminished in the past 50 years. A global-warming trend is calculated to reduce the latitudinal temperature gradient and therefore the driving force for storms and severe weather;

8) Global agriculture will likely benefit from climate warming and increased precipitation; increased CO2 leads to more rapid plant growth; increased nocturnal and winter warming leads to a longer growing seasons. Farmers can, and will, adjust to climate changes, as they always have;

9) The spread of disease vectors, like malaria-carrying mosquitoes, is likely to be unimportant in comparison to human vectors. In addition, medical science and insect control technology are sure to progress;

10) Historical evidence supports the idea that warmer climate intervals are beneficial for human activities, food production, and health. Colder periods have had the opposite effect. Some periods of 'The Little Ice Age' were truly dire for human populations. Moreover, in purely statistical terms relating to the last 800,000 years, we are not too far off the next Ice Age;

11) Mitigation techniques are available that can slow down the rise of atmospheric GH gases and a possible climate change: energy conservation and increased efficiency often make economic sense; hydro- and nuclear power are available now; solar energy may be around the corner; 'clean' coal is on its way; tree planting, ocean fertilization, and the long-term geological storage of carbon may be low-cost methods of sequestering atmospheric CO2;

12) Policy measures should be applied with great caution, and only when justified by scientific data, lest they create more harm than good. In particular, mandatory controls on energy use by whatever method can create great economic losses, impacting especially on poor people and poor nations.

There are many, many more questions to add - particularly on the economic side - but these will do for starters.

Hysteria and the 'global warming' myth are dangerous for us all.

Philip, in need of strong coffee.

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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