Sunday, November 16, 2008

What's Gone Wrong with Climate Change?

All is not well with the world of climate science. First, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) – one of the four designated centres in the world responsible for monitoring global temperatures – announced that October 2008 had been the hottest October on record. It then had to recant – significant errors had occurred in its data analysis. October, like several months since 1998, was in fact cooler than usual. In turns out that October 2008 achieved 63 local snowfall records and 115 lowest-ever temperatures for the month, and ranked it as only the 70th warmest October in 114 years

Second, the Chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) , Dr Rajendra Pachauri (a former railway engineer with no qualifications in climate science), surprised a university audience in Australia by claiming that global temperatures have recently been rising "very much faster" than ever. In fact, as many of his audience of scientists were aware, they have not been rising in recent years and since 2007 have dropped significantly and have been generally cooling since 1998.

Third, in August 2008, the sun failed to produce a single sun spot – a key factor in the warming of the earth. The last time this occurred was in June 1913. Some scientists now suggest that the pattern of sun spot behaviour since 1749 is showing clear signs of change in line with the same patterns seen in the three previous periods of significant earth cooling since records began. Known as the Dalton, Maunder and Spörer Minimums, each was associated with a period of rapid earth cooling, one of which was cold enough to be known as a mini ice age (1450 to 1820). The dominant prediction amongst those scientists that take the view that we are entering a cooling period is that the earth will cool for a period of two decades before returning to a modest warming. Even the Old Farmers Almanac takes this view of the future.

For example, Dr Richard Gee, Chairman of the International Geological Congress’s scientific committee, challenged the international community to answer a simple question at a recent meeting of the congress in Oslo. The question: “how many years must the planet cool before we begin to understand – we politicians and scientists - that the planet is not warming?”. Using a detailed and peer reviewed analysis of climate change data, he observed the current cooling period has been taking place for some time. He reminded his audience of Lord John Maynard Keynes observation that “When the facts change, I change my mind”. “It is time for us to do the same”, he said.

Fourth, the claims that the North Pole could be ice free within the near future are challenged by strong evidence to the contrary. Recent studies, using direct observations rather than computer models, show that the ice in the Arctic is getting thicker – some projections suggest that multi-year ice (perennial ice versus annual ice) will be 200% thicker at the end of 2008 than it was at the beginning. What is more, Arctic sea ice is already 28.7% higher than this date last year. A number of polar scientists have concluded that Arctic warming and cooling in Greenland during the last half of the last century is due almost entirely to natural cyclical changes, perhaps due to multi-decadal oscillations like the Arctic Oscillation, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and the El Niño. We need to remember that for only about 5% of known climate history could the North and South Poles support masses of permanent ice, which is why dinosaur bones have been found at both.

Finally, weather-satellite scientists David Douglass of the University of Rochester and John Christy of the University of Alabama at Huntsville have also challenged the orthodoxy that CO2 causes global warming. Professor Christy has been in charge of NASA's eight weather satellites that take more than 300,000 temperature readings daily around the globe for some twenty nine years. In a paper co-written with Dr. Douglass, he concludes that, while manmade emissions may be having a slight impact, "variations in global temperatures since 1978 ... cannot be attributed to carbon dioxide."

It looks like science is making a come-back in the field of climate change. It is about time. So much of the reporting by both scientists and journalists about climate change is based on flawed computer models, claims which cannot be justified against a rigorous analysis of the data or the elevation of the theory that CO2 is the primary cause of global warming into a cult, despite the evidence. As the number of scientific studies showing both that the earth is cooling and that CO2 is a minor factor in cycles of climate change grow, then the public policy positions of Governments and environmentalists become increasingly problematic. The bottom line is that we are still in the early stages of understanding the dynamics of climate change. It is time to moderate the claim that we can inhibit, slow or prevent climate change by lowering CO2 emissions. Reducing such emissions may be a good thing in an of itself, but it may not have any impact on the climate.

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