Last week, European diplomats told the worlds' press that Russia, Japan and Canada have decided to drop out of the Kyoto treaty before the end of the year. The Kyoto treaty was first formed in 1997, where the vast majority of world nations agreed to a protocol of legally-binding pledges to reduce their annual greenhouse gas emissions. The United States attracted considerable controversy for refusing to join the treaty and it now seems that Russia, Japan and Canada are likely to initiate a bigger controversy and a potential dead-end for Kyoto with their refusal to join the latest round of carbon cuts. These developments are yet another slap in the face to climate change campaigners who saw both non-binding Copenhagen and Cancun climate summit agreements as being clearly insufficient to curb global warming. The climate change movement now seems at a dead-end and there is a palpable sense of negativity amongst the activist community as many seem resigned to a perceived terrible fate for the earth. But is such an attitude justified? Indeed, there may be some good news to come out of this whole charade. That good news may lie in the possibility that climate change science has led a lot of people along for a ride for quite some years.
With the advent of a recent spate of deadly tornado outbreaks in the US; several media outlets and thinktanks reacted by insinuating perceived linkages between the destructive tornadic events and anthropogenic climate change. One thinktank even went as far as to suggest that the "climate pollution deniers" in the effected states were to blame for the deaths as a result of their stance on climate-related legislation. This was a politically left of centre thinktank called "Think Progress" and it included a statement from the climate scientist Kevin Trenberth which was made earlier in January about how all weather events are affected by global warming. In reality, the public data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows no sign of an increase in strong to violent tornadoes in the US from 1950 onwards. The data also shows a gradual decline in the number of deaths from such events from 1950 up to the present. In the light of this information, one wonders why some were so quick to assume a correlation with global warming - especially when it is reasonable to expect a decent scientist to check public data before making statements or insinuations. Sadly, there have been a number of inaccurate correlations made between a variety of severe weather events and anthropogenic climate change. An example can be found in the presumptions that global heat waves and extremes have increased in frequency as a result of global warming. Statistical records from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center show that continental temperature extremes have mostly occurred in the late 19th century and early 1900's with only Antarctica showing a post 1950's positive temperature anamoly. Therefore, this contradicts the perceived correlation with anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Paradoxically, some climate scientists and climate bloggers had suggested that the powerful US snow storms earlier this year were another symptom of AGW. But then later, an investigation by NOAA's Climate Scene Investigators found no such correlation, writing in their report "If global warming was the culprit, the team would have expected to find a gradual increase in heavy snowstorms in the mid-Atlantic region as temperatures rose during the past century. But historical analysis revealed no such increase in snowfall". The same unproven correlation with AGW can be found in the case of the Russian Droughts last summer - which caused dangerous wildfires and exerted a considerable toll on global wheat exports as a result.
There are legitimate questions concerning the causative arguments posited by climate scientists. For example, while CO2 levels have increased from approximately 280 parts per million (ppm) to 390ppm over the last 150 years; this has not necessarily caused the 0.8 Celcius increase in global temperatures that has occurred during that same period. It is generally proven that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that a doubling of its concentration will result in at least a 1 Celcius temperature increase. Yet, the vast majority of climate scientists are arguing that temperatures can increase by much greater than 1 Celcius from CO2 increases that constitute far less than a relative doubling. For example, they suggest that an increase in CO2 concentration from 390ppm to under 500ppm could cause a global average temperature rise of anywhere between 4-8C (according to the Met Office Hadley Centre). This is achieved by proposed feedback mechanisms that are referred to collectively as "climate sensitivity". One single example of "climate sensitivity" theory is that a small increase in global average temperature can lead to the melting of ice in certain regions, which reduces the reflectivity of the Earth's surface which results in more solar radiation being absorbed by the Earth and hence more warming which then melts more ice, releases more water vapour and causes more rain, and so forth. These chain events are perceived to amplify the effects of the initial warming said to be caused by CO2 trapping the sun's heat in the atmosphere. Yet, there is data that suggests the power of these proposed feedback mechanisms is considerably weaker than what climate scientists and their computer models suggest. Ice-cores mined from deep under the ground of Antarctica can be forensically measured in order to determine past temperature records. This is done by measuring levels of heavy oxygen isotopes that were present in the atmosphere at the time. Climate scientists also use ice-cores (as well as other material) to determine past global climate records. However, data from the Vostok research station pours considerable doubt on the factuality of the "climate sensitivity" feedbacks proposed by the majority of climate scientists. The data shows that in the last half million years - there have been a considerable amount of temperature increases of 1 Celcius or more that have not been followed by the amplified temperature increases suggested by the "climate sensitivity" feedbacks of current climate change theory. These temperature increases have occurred on intervals that are similar to the 0.8 Celcius increase that has taken place in the last 150 years. This analysis has been done by Frank Lansner on the What's Up With That webblog and it includes the following clarifications:-
"Below I have identified all temperature rises of the Vostok data fulfilling the following criterion: “Temperature at the beginning of temperature rise must be at most 1 K below today’s temperatures indicated by -1K anomaly in the Vostok data. Next, the examined periods must be at most 300 years in length (we want to focus on the warming effect of one century time intervals) and finally, the initial temperature increase from glacial to interglacial is not included”:
If temperatures rose by 1C or more during conditions very close to that of today, then this raises doubts about the claims of Hansen et al with regard to climate sensitivity resulting from 1C or more temperature rises. Indeed, Hansen claims that a rise of 1C or more from the "Holocene" average would be dangerous:-
The chart in the above blog link shows the period of perceived "climatic stability" to be ranging between 0 and 0.5C above or below the Holocene period.
Climate scientist Michael Mann writes that a theoretical 1C increase from CO2 forcing can result in a temperature increase of over 3C as a result of a variety of feedback mechanisms:-
"For example, if a warming of 1C due just to CO2 doubling alone causes an increase in water vapor content that adds an additional equilibrium warming of 2C, so that the net warming is 3C, the water vapor feedback factor would be two. Feedback factors can be specified for a particular feedback (e.g. the water vapor feedback), or for the sum over all feedbacks under consideration (e.g. water vapor feedback, ice albedo feedback, and cloud feedback). For example, suppose that the initial 1C warming also led to an increase primarily in low cloud cover which added arelative cooling of -0.5C, and a melting of ice which added an additional relative warming of 1C. Then the cloud feedback factor would be -0.5, the ice albedo feedback factor would be 1.0, and the net feedback factor would be 2-0.5+1 = 2.5! Alternatively, we could compute the overall feedback factor by taking the total warming (initial 1C warming + 2C -0.5C + 1C = 3.5C) divided by the initial warming, minus one, i.e. 3.5C/1C - 1 = 2.5. The equilibrium climate sensitivity in this case would 3.5. "
The Vostok record shows these computer model feedback scenarios to be rather questionnable at the very least, and downright dishonest and pathological at the worst.
To make matters worse for Mann et al; a scientific paper published in last year's Quaternary Science Reviews journal casts further doubt onto the "climate sensitivity" theory. The authors of the paper found that there were apparent periods of ice-free summers in the central Arctic ocean over 10,000 years ago. This suggests that the Earth's climate can recover from such episodes at a quicker rate than has been suggested by mainstream climate scientists and that there be no need to fear global catastrophe from any ice-free Arctic summers in the near future.
A challenge to the notion of "climatic stability" can also be garnered from a recent BBC documentary by Adam Curtis; which looks at evidence that casts doubt on the popularised notion that the natural world is a self-regulating ecosystem. While it does not specifically mention anthropogenic climate change, the documentary does analyse the shortcomings of such notions that regard nature as tending towards equilibrium. The documentary also analyses the historical roots and origins of these ideas as well as the interface between the environmental movement, political power and the world of computing (where computer models have been used to simulate some idealised form of self-regulation):-
While the computer models used by climate scientists to posit "climate sensitivity" feedbacks can be called into question for their poor reflection of historical reality - they can also be called into question when it comes to predicting the future. A peer-reviewed paper published in last year's Hydrological Sciences Journal found that both temperature and precipitation forecasts by climate models turned out to be erroneous. As a result, the authors questionned the very idea that climate models can be a reliable method of long-term predictions. They concluded by writing that "we think that the most important question is not whether GCMs (General Circulation Models) can produce credible estimates of future climate, but whether climate is at all predictable in deterministic terms". One of the biggest controversies of contemporary climate science has been the issue of Michael Mann's "hockey stick" graph. The graph shows a sudden anamolous temperature rise from the 20th century onwards which stands out against a less variable and more lower average temperature period spanning back further than the middle ages. Sceptics of this temperature record claim that Michael Mann and his colleagues committed fraud by removing the "Medieval Warm Period" and thus making the 20th century period look warmer than it really is in the historical context. Interestingly, the first IPCC report published in 1990 featured a distinctive Medieval warm period with temperatures slightly warmer than today but this was removed from subsequent IPCC reports. It is not possible to prove that Michael Mann did anything wrong, but it is possible to challenge the mainstream idea that the Medieval Warm Period was not a global event. While the mainstream scientists claim that the warm period was only expressed in certain regions of the Northern Hemisphere - there is evidence suggesting that it was also present in the Southern Hemisphere. A paper published in the 2000 issue of the South African Journal of Science shows data from paleoclimatic records illustrating a Medieval Warm Period that exhibited mean temperatures 6 to 7°F warmer than today. The paper also stated that "Extreme events in the record show distinct teleconnections with similar events in other parts of the world, in both the northern and southern hemispheres". Some mainstream climate scientists try to discredit these studies by claiming that areas in the Southern Hemisphere during the Medieval period had lower average temperatures than they do today. But the presence of cooler temperatures is actually expected by climate scientists in their contemporary predictions. Some areas may well indeed get even cooler and wetter as a result of an increase in global average temperature. But there is considerable uncertainty with regard to spatial temperature distribution. Indeed, a 2003 report by the Sustainable Energy Institute commissioned for the Pentagon in the United States stated the following:-
"There is considerable uncertainty about the climate dynamics of the Southern Hemisphere, mainly due to less paleoclimatic data being available than for the Northern Hemisphere. Weather patterns in key regions in the Southern Hemisphere could mimic those of the Northern Hemisphere, becoming colder, drier, and more severe as heat flows from the tropics to the Northern Hemisphere, trying to thermodynamically balance the climatic system. Alternatively, the cooling of the Northern Hemisphere may lead to increased warmth, precipitation, and storms in the south, as the heat normally transported away from equatorial regions by the ocean currents becomes trapped and as greenhouse gas warming continues to accelerate."
All of this seems to suggest that climate science is in complete dissarray, despite the fact that there is an oft-touted "consensus" supporting anthropogenic climate change. But does it really matter if there is a "consensus" amongst professional climate scientists? After all, science should not be judged by consensus or even if over 99% of scientists claim one thing to be true. Science should be judged by empirical facts and experiments; regardless of whether they come from individuals, minorities or majorities. There have been great scientists in the past who were laughed at by the majority scientific community at the time, only to be vindicated years later. When it comes to the issue of climate science (and many theoretical sciences in general - including the problems of mainstream cosmology) there is a large degree of hierarchical institutionalization, professionalization and inertia at work. Bodies of work build up and scientists tend to become more resistant to criticism from outside their peers or collective. The peer-review process may indeed be problematic given the nature of control that certain people with certain biases may hold. The pressures of governments and political activists most likely have an impact on decisions at scientific or university institutions that influence the work of climate scientists and the admission of papers at journals. Biologist Rupert Sheldrake has summed up the sorry situation of contemporary science in the following revealing quotes:-
"In the Nineteenth Century, Darwin, for example, put forward radical ideas. He didn't have to deal with the science establishment because at that time amateurs like him worked independently in whatever area interested them. He never had an academic post. He didn't have a government grant. He worked as an independent scientist from his country home in Kent, and he could say what he liked. Nowadays very few scientists have that independence. Younger ones are dependent on short-term contracts and on the patronage of their superiors, which makes them very frightened - very conservative - very afraid to step out of line. More senior scientists are dependent on the flow of grants and funds which depends on yet higher-up people in the science establishment approving their work and thinking they are good chaps and so on. And the effect of all this is to make people extraordinarily frightened of stepping out of line. Science, in its ideology, sees itself as doing fearless exploration of the unknown. Most of the time it's a fearful exploration of the almost known."
He also said that "science has a kind of Stalinist mentality - a kind of central committee, planning out research strategies and awarding grants in an atmosphere of fear throughout the scientific community. People don't dare step out of line"
(Above quotes sourced from Don Scott's book "The Electric Sky", 2006, p. 222 - Published by Mikamar).
It may be tempting to dismiss people who criticise mainstream climate scientists as having a dishonest or nefarious agenda. Indeed, sceptics have been compartmentalized with the fossil-fuel industry because they dare to question climate scientists. But this sort of compartmentalization is unhelpful. The health of our environment is clearly paramount, and there needs to be a reduction in waste, pollution, and the overall use of fossil-fuel energy. Indeed, the issue of Peak Oil and energy security requires that we must act to reduce our dependence on fossil-fuels regardless of what we think of climate change. Sadly, it seems that climate change has been publically promoted to a much greater degree than the issue of Peak Oil. The sheer complexity of climate change science has caused divisions and a demoralized and often sceptical attitude amongst the public. When climate change is used to enact legislation to reduce fossil-fuel usage, this has often been met with anger by people who are not happy with the science or perceive some agenda. It is not possible to prove such an agenda amongst climate scientists except that their methods are questionnable and that their funding should be redirected to public awareness initiatives focussed on less contentious issues, such as energy security and Peak Oil. With this new approach, perhaps the promotion of less wasteful lifestyles can be more fruitful.