Man-Made or Natural – Part 1 of 2

 

As time is passing, it is amusing to see who else is getting on the bandwagon by making statements advocating Man – Made Global warming. In the latest group are such persons as Pope Benedict XVI who has called action on climate change a “moral obligation”, the General Secretary of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon who has publicly stated that the ‘debate of Global Warming is over’ and of course, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who hails himself as the leader of political action heroes by implementing laws in California that will reduce carbon emissions by industries by more than 30 percent by 2020, a year well past the end of his governorship.

According to an article in the Independent, a UK publication, “Vatican City has become the first fully carbon-neutral state in the world after announcing it is offsetting its carbon footprint by planting a forest in Hungary and installing solar panels on the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.” The Pope is scheduled to visit the United States next April and will make environmental issues the main focal point of his visit. He will among other things address the United Nations assembly where he will reportedly make an appeal for sustainable development because climate change is affecting the poorest people on the planet. In a speech on September 7, His Holiness stated that there was a “pressing need for science and religion to work together to safeguard the gifts of nature and to promote responsible stewardship.”

Sounds good and definitely well intentioned. We thought to balance this with the text of a speech giving on June 30, 2007 by Mr. S. Fred Singer, professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia during a seminar entitled “Economics and the Environment” sponsored by the Charles R. and Kathleen K. Hoogland Center for Teacher Excellence. This article is ‘reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.’ The length of the article forces us to reprint it in two separate parts:

“Global Warming: Man-Made or Natural?” Part 1/2

S. Fred Singer
Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia

S. Fred Singer is professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Vir-ginia, a distinguished research professor at George Mason University, and president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project. He performed his undergraduate studies at Ohio State University and earned his Ph.D. in Physics from Princeton University. He was the founding dean of the School of Environmental and Planetary Sciences at the University of Miami, the founding director of the U.S. National Weather Satellite Service, and served for five years as vice chairman of the U.S. National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere. Dr. Singer has written or edited over a dozen books and mono-graphs, including, most recently, Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years. The following is adapted from a lecture delivered on the Hillsdale College campus on June 30, 2007, during a seminar entitled “Economics and the Environment,” sponsored by the Charles R. and Kathleen K. Hoogland Center for Teacher Excellence.


IN THE PAST few years there has been increasing concern about global climate change on the part of the media, politicians, and the public. It has been stimulated by the idea that human activities may influence global climate adversely and that therefore corrective action is required on the part of governments. Recent evidence suggests that this concern is misplaced. Human activities are not influencing the global climate in a perceptible way. Climate will continue to change, as it always has in the past, warming and cooling on different time scales and for different reasons, regardless of human action. I would also argue that—should it occur—a modest warming would be on the whole beneficial.

This is not to say that we don’t face a serious problem. But the problem is political. Because of the mistaken idea that governments can and must do something about climate, pressures are building that have the potential of distorting energy policies in a way that will severely damage national economies, decrease standards of living, and increase poverty. This misdi-rection of resources will adversely affect human health and welfare in industrialized nations, and even more in developing nations. Thus it could well lead to increased social tensions within nations and conflict between them.

If not for this economic and political damage, one might consider the present concern about climate change nothing more than just another environmentalist fad, like the Alar apple scare or the global cooling fears of the 1970s. Given that so much is at stake, how-ever, it is essential that people better understand the issue.

Man-Made Warming?

The most fundamental question is scientific: Is the observed warming of the past 30 years due to natural causes or are human activities a main or even a contributing factor?

At first glance, it is quite plausible that humans could be responsible for warming the cli-mate. After all, the burning of fossil fuels to generate energy releases large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The CO2 level has been increasing steadily since the beginning of the industrial revolution and is now 35 percent higher than it was 200 years ago. Also, we know from direct measurements that CO2 is a “greenhouse gas” which strongly absorbs infrared (heat) radiation. So the idea that burning fossil fuels causes an enhanced “greenhouse effect” needs to be taken seriously.

But in seeking to understand recent warming, we also have to consider the natural factors that have regularly warmed the climate prior to the industrial revolution and, indeed, prior to any human presence on the earth. After all, the geological record shows a persistent 1,500-year cycle of warming and cooling extending back at least one million years.  

In identifying the burning of fossil fuels as the chief cause of warming today, many politicians and environmental activists simply appeal to a so-called “scientific consensus.” There are two things wrong with this. First, there is no such consensus: An increasing number of climate scientists are raising serious questions about the political rush to judgment on this issue. For example, the widely touted “consensus” of 2,500 scientists on the United Nations Intergov-ernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an illusion: Most of the panelists have no scien-tific qualifications, and many of the others object to some part of the IPCC’s report. The As-sociated Press reported recently that only 52 climate scientists contributed to the report’s “Summary for Policymakers.”

Likewise, only about a dozen members of the governing board voted on the “consensus statement” on climate change by the American Meteorological Society (AMS). Rank and file AMS scientists never had a say, which is why so many of them are now openly rebelling. Estimates of skepticism within the AMS regarding man-made global warming are well over 50 percent.

The second reason not to rely on a “scientific consensus” in these matters is that this is not how science works. After all, scientific advances customarily come from a minority of scientists who challenge the majority view—or even just a single person (think of Galileo or Einstein). Science proceeds by the scientific method and draws conclusions based on evidence, not on a show of hands.

But aren’t glaciers melting? Isn’t sea ice shrinking? Yes, but that’s not proof for human-caused warming. Any kind of warming, whether natural or human-caused, will melt ice. To assert that melting glaciers prove human causation is just bad logic.

What about the fact that carbon dioxide levels are increasing at the same time tempera-tures are rising? That’s an interesting correlation; but as every scientist knows, correlation is not causation. During much of the last century the climate was cooling while CO2 levels were rising. And we should note that the climate has not warmed in the past eight years, even though greenhouse gas levels have increased rapidly.

What about the fact—as cited by, among others, those who produced the IPCC report—that every major greenhouse computer model (there are two dozen or so) shows a large tem-perature increase due to human burning of fossil fuels? Fortunately, there is a scientific way of testing these models to see whether current warming is due to a man-made greenhouse effect. It involves comparing the actual or observed pattern of warming with the warming pattern predicted by or calculated from the models. Essentially, we try to see if the “finger-prints” match—“fingerprints” meaning the rates of warming at different latitudes and alti-tudes.

For instance, theoretically, greenhouse warming in the tropics should register at increas-ingly high rates as one moves from the surface of the earth up into the atmosphere, peak-ing at about six miles above the earth’s surface. At that point, the level should be greater than at the surface by about a factor of three and quite pronounced, according to all the computer models. In reality, however, there is no increase at all. In fact, the data from bal-loon-borne radiosondes show the very opposite: a slight decrease in warming over the equator.

The fact that the observed and predicted patterns of warming don’t match indicates that the man-made greenhouse contribution to current temperature change is insignificant. This fact emerges from data and graphs collected in the Climate Change Science Program Report 1.1, published by the federal government in April 2006 (see www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/sap1-1/finalreport/default.htm). It is remarkable and puzzling that few have noticed this disparity between observed and predicted patterns of warming and drawn the obvious scientific conclusion.

What explains why greenhouse computer models predict temperature trends that are so much larger than those observed? The answer lies in the proper evaluation of feedback within the models. Remember that in addition to carbon dioxide, the real atmosphere con-tains water vapor, the most powerful greenhouse gas. Every one of the climate models calculates a significant positive feedback from water vapor—i.e., a feedback that amplifies the warming effect of the CO2 increase by an average factor of two or three. But it is quite possible that the water vapor feedback is negative rather than positive and thereby re-duces the effect of increased CO2.

There are several ways this might occur. For example, when increased CO2 produces a warming of the ocean, a higher rate of evaporation might lead to more humidity and cloudi-ness (provided the atmosphere contains a sufficient number of cloud condensation nuclei). These low clouds reflect incoming solar radiation back into space and thereby cool the earth. Climate researchers have discovered other possible feedbacks and are busy evaluat-ing which ones enhance and which diminish the effect of increasing CO2.

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