Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Climate Change, Scientific Consensus & the Media

by Peter Taylor

Ed. - Peter was prompted to respond to a slide from an internal presentation by a UK agency which presents and compares the following statistics: (1) of 928 peer-reviewed articles appearing in scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, none were "in doubt as to the cause of global warming"; and (2) of 636 articles in the US popular press between 1988 and 2002, 53% were "in doubt as to the cause of global warming". The original sources of these data are (1) The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change, by Naomi Oreskes of the University of California at San Diego - see http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/306/5702/1686; and (2) Journalistic Balance as Global Warming Bias: Creating controversy where science finds consensus by Jules Boykoff and Maxwell Boykoff - see http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1978.

Of course, it depends upon what is meant by 'in doubt as to the cause of global warming'. Anyone who gets to write a peer-reviewed article knows full well that 'global warming' is caused by BOTH natural and human factors and that the key question is 'how much of each'? Almost all accept that warming prior to 1950 (about half the rise) must have been caused by mainly natural factors, that is to say, cycles of solar activity. The crucial question relates to the post-1980 warming (there was a worldwide drop between 1945 and 1978 that is not explainable by aerosols or volcanoes, but correlates to a downturn in the solar cycle). Computer modellers believe that the post-1980 rise cannot be explained by natural factors and is the signature of human emissions, but there are many in the oceanographic, solar-terrestrial physics and paleontology community who have published their doubts about the strength of that signature, as well as the scale of 'warming' compared to previous warm periods. The problem is: scientific papers use very diplomatic language and for good reason.

If someone would like to fund me a very small amount, say £1,500, I will go down to the British Library (BL) and look at every one of those 928 peer-reviewed papers, extract the conclusions and analyse them for the following:
  • the number that do not question the consensus, but suggest that solar factors can produce a signal as great as carbon dioxide (I know of at least three), thus implying, but not stating, that carbon dioxide is not the main driver;

  • the number dealing with satellite data on SW (short-wave? ed.) flux to the oceans and land surfaces that show significant cloud thinning and give data on the size of the effect, which implies, but does not state, that this mechanism must be the main driver (another three);

  • the number that question whether the current warming is unusual on a longer timescale of 10,000 years, representing the natural cycle of an inter-glacial, that is, the Holocene post-glacial optimum, the Roman warm period and the medieval warm period (another five at least);

  • the number that state that 'the cause' is BOTH natural and possibly human but that the ratio is still unclear (another three);

  • the number that show correlations of solar cycles and sea surface temperatures, as well as other oceanographic phenomena that cannot be explained by the current CO2 model (perhaps ten or so).

I know of these papers: I read them in the BL last spring. There are, I would estimate, at least another twenty that I have not seen.

Of course, it may be that the researchers who wrote the '928' assessment did not include these papers, or if they did, did not understand them. But if you search for a phrase, 'we disagree with the current model', you are unlikely to find it: science papers in these political times are seldom so bold (there are a few).

There is one paper in the BL - I can't recall immediately in what journal - that analyses the sudden surge in peer-reviewed 'climate' papers in relation to the sudden surge in money spent on computer modelling. I would guess computer-modelling papers outnumber other climatology papers by 10-to-1.

The most telling of Svensmark's* non-computer-model papers produces a watt/sq. metre estimate of the solar cloud effect at 1.4 and comments: 'this is a significant finding, comparable to that claimed for carbon dioxide'. Now that sentence might not be construed as doubt as to the cause of global warming - it depends upon the intelligence of the reader.

If you want an explanation of why Svensmark should be so careful in not overtly criticising the consensus, read his book, The Chilling Stars, and you will see how much trouble he had funding the research, even with his head well down below the parapet.

It's cheap propaganda - the sort that Al Gore is using - and it does not become the debate in our circles. Let's talk instead of the quality of cosmic ray data, the flux over the last century, oceanic time lags, the cloud cover data, NASA's GISS files and their failure to update them after the "instrument error" that detected a massive LW (long-wave? ed.) pulse to the upper atmosphere at the same time as oceanographers were logging the one-fifth loss of all the heat accumulated in the past fifty years of ocean monitoring, and the albedo readings for the year 2003-2004 that also shot off the scale, indicating massive cloud changes, and which are also now claimed as instrument error ... all of which cannot be explained by the CO2 model, but which are predicted by solar models.

Let's, for science's sake, get scientific about this and devote some resources to thinking, reading, listening to the scientific debate, instead of dutifully accepting authority from above like little boys at school. The RSPB, the Environment Agency, Greenpeace, WWF and FOE all have the resources critically to review the science - and I mean critically review it - but that attitude seems to have died out in the late 1980s. Now it is more convenient to jump on the climate-modellers' gravy train and chant the scary mantras about melting ice-caps and dying puffins, whilst coining it with specially adapted credit cards that tie-in to renewable energy companies - I call it 'corporate creep'.

Having bought into the mitigation nonsense that is peddled by governments who have absolutely no intention of significantly reducing demand and who, in time-honoured fashion, go for 'supply options' because that is where business can profit and government can be seen to be doing something - check out the stats for Spain, the world-leader in renewable supplies, with a doubling of CO2 emissions - the environmental groups are now reaping the fruits of their Faustian bargain. The monsters of supply will consume not just sea eagles and the incredible scenery of Skye and the Hebrides, geese and tranquility on Romney Marsh, and sustainable community in the Mendips, but eventually the whole Severn estuary with a tidal barrage ... and add another ten nuclear reactors to churn out their wastes and dangers. And that is just in the UK, because we will also extend our decarbonised ecological footprint to the forests of Borneo, the Amazon and Latvia in search of biofuels and woodchips.

I am sorry to get steamed up - particularly since I have just carbonised my dinner in the process ... can I put in a claim for sequestration credits under the Kyoto protocol?


*Ed. - For more on Professor Svensmark's work, see, for example, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3036032.stm, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1363818.ece and, for the more inquisitive, http://www.dsri.dk/~hsv/.


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