Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Warming or Cooling?

by Peter Taylor

An almighty battle is about to be engaged between proponents of solar theories of climate change and adherents to the supposedly standard carbon dioxide model. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is about to issue its fourth scientific assessment - a summary was published in February - and this argues that solar effects are minimal. Meanwhile solar scientist Henrik Svensmark, funded by the European Space Agency, has demonstrated a mechanism that will explain the thinning clouds phenomenon picked up by satellite data, but not as a feedback to carbon’s increasing concentration, rather as a primary driver which leaves little over for carbon. In other words, the human influence on climate has been seriously over-estimated. If Svensmark’s theory is accepted, less than 30% of the changes we see are due to human activity (and only 15% due to fossil fuel burning). If the sun’s magnetic field drops, as some scientists expect, it could dramatically cool the planet.

Surely, two thousand of the world’s top scientists cannot be wrong? Would that this were so. Not so long ago, select UN committees were locked in an argument over the effects of low-level radiation and a stolid defence of the widespread practice of X-raying pregnant women. They - and all of the top scientific institutions - were wrong, but it took Alice Stewart, a ‘maverick’ scientist, ten years to persuade them. In the end, it was steadily-accumulated, contradicting evidence (leukaemia in the children) that won the day, along with Stewart's dogged determination against funding cuts and mud-slinging from people who should have been the first to support her. She saved hundreds of thousands of lives, yet received no honours, while her chief detractor was knighted.

Something similar is afoot with global warming. The standard model may be flawed. It relies on assumed water vapour feedbacks that have not been validated. It was pointed out at the first IPCC meeting by Richard Lindzen, professor of meteorology at MIT, that if the water vapour turned to cloud, the feedback could be negative. He later resigned when he failed to get this caveat written in to the first IPCC report. The real rise in global temperatures has been taken as validation of the model, but Svensmark’s work suggests that this rise is due to another factor: an increased solar electromagnetic field thinning the cloud over the oceans, which then receive more sunlight and so heat up. Satellite data analysed in 2004 support this theory. Moreover, following a dip in the sun’s field, global ocean temperatures have been falling after the El Niño peak in 1998, something which is difficult to explain with the standard model. In fact, during the two years 2003 to 2005, the oceans lost one-fifth of all the heat accumulated in the previous fifty years.

Over 75% of the planet’s surface is ocean. The defensive response to this ocean cooling has been to refer to it as a ‘blip in the general trend’ and ‘we have seen such blips before’. Yes, but only after major volcanic eruptions ... and there were none in the period 2003 to 2005.

The oceans are cooling and, according to oceanographers (who, along with solar scientists, are being ignored by the IPCC), it is due to changes in low-level cloud formations that correlate with solar cycles. There is a time-lag as the oceans release their heat and it is that heat that is melting the Arctic rather than any greenhouse effect.

But what about all these sophisticated computer models? Well, they have had their critics - always ignored by the scientists seeking ever greater funding for their models - and the main criticism has been that they are unable to model cloud responses. Now, the new science cannot be ignored. Henrik Svensmark, after beavering away quietly since 1991 on his theories of solar influence, has discovered the mechanism (published on 22 February 2007 as The Chilling Stars), namely a modulation of cloud seeding over the oceans by the electromagnetic field. As the sun’s field builds up, cosmic radiation is deflected and less clouds form because the ionising radiation field controls cloud seeding. The sun began to ramp down in 1990 and, although there is an oceanic time lag, the globe is cooling, more so where the currents disperse the heat rapidly, as in the southern hemisphere, less quickly in the northern hemisphere.

We will know the full extent of the cooling this year. If El Niño fails - the US specialists think it will, whereas British commentators think it won’t - the oceans will cool further and, if the next solar peak (on an eleven-year cycle) is lower than the last, even more cooling will follow in five years time.

So, we can relax? No more need for ugly wind turbines on blue-remembered hills and no more excuse for revamping nuclear power? Yes and no. Even the most optimistic emission controls will have virtually no effect this century on atmospheric carbon levels anyway ... and the only proven mechanism for reducing demand for fossil fuels was always price, so the oil ‘peak’ expected in 2015 will see to that. But the real challenge is going to be feeding the extra one billion people who will be born in the next thirteen years, most of them into food-deficit countries, which currently cannot compete in a globalised food market and are very vulnerable to climate swings in either direction. Global cooling will compromise the productive northern grain belts upon which a world food surplus relies - and probably more so than continued warming. The paradigm is shifting rapidly. If Svensmark is right, food and water will be the big issue in five years' time and nobody will talk then of global warming.

16 comments:

Barry Larking said...

I have been patiently waiting to read an account of global warming in the conservation prints which takes seriously the role of the sun into a description of global warming effects. James Lovelock has said some sage words but usually the bellowing from the carbon lobby has drowned out any other view.
We are, even the most assiduous readers amongst us, dependent on the interpretation of data we do not have, leave alone the ability to collect. But what has guided me in my own climate change through emissions scepticism is partly open mindedness and a rather less admirable dislike of the herd mentality.
I watch BBC TV's The Sky at Night very occasionally. I am certain I discovered from that programme that the sun was in a very active phase and it was already a few decades into it. Since even a science ignoramus such as I knows the sun is the only contributor to climate (weather) I thought this sounded a little worth remembering.
My second reason to doubt the carbon emission explanation is pure prejudice, but we all have them. Since when has the circumstance that every scientist in a field believes in a theory does it make the theory iron-clad? Answer: When there is money to had. I am afraid I feel the scientific community is just as venial as the rest of humankind and grants follow trends. I can also remember when an explantion of climate change was going to lead to an new ice age. That was in the 1970s.
Before I break out in a sweat and think I have woken up with a lifetimes subscription to the Daily Mail gripped between my teeth, I am not on the side of Lord Tebbitt in the climate change debate. On the contrary.
But what to do? Either way, warming or cooling will have effects which will fall chiefly on the shoulders of those least able to deal with them; poor "third world" countries.
I am fond of pointing out to my many friends that the policies they apparently urge on me sitting around dining tables goaning under bottles of plonk and food from every continent bar one, that their idealism is without cost to themselves. They do not convince me they want to give up their priviledged status for even a minute. Yet this is what must happen, either willingly, or by catastophe. The catastophe will be paying the true costs for food, fuel and travel, all of which are at historically low levels, if in history such largesse as we all now experience had been so widely available. Unlikely.
Changing our lives in any sense whether carbon neutral on for some other reason is an essential process for us to undertake. We must embrace change or be a victim of it. But change is inevitable. We simply cannot go on like this; there is nothing inevitable about the people on a small island in the northern Atlantic having such a lion's share of good's and resources. If history tells us anything it is that nothing lasts.

Anonymous said...

For an analysis of the undelying science behind "The Chilling Stars. A New Theory of Climate Change", by a climate scientist, see http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/10/taking-cosmic-rays-for-a-spin/

It is fairly evident that the results of Svensmark's experiment have been extrapolated beyond all reason.

Barry Larking said...

I am obliged to you for posting this link. However, it appears from subsequent commentaries on it (which may post-date your own posting to this site) that all is not "fairly evident". What is clear is that the science is both complex and uncertain, as with all physics at this recondite level. I merely observe there is not the unanimity here which would help a lay person to form a view as to which theory is correct based on overwhelming evidence.

On a somewhat different point I note that there is a tendency to ridicule on this post which one must deplore. This is not journalism and mud slinging gets no one anywhere. The use of "crowd" to characterise proponents of a different explanation is unwise, and "peanut" gallery, whatever that is, is a retreat from seriousness which undermines the arguments, if not entire debate.

My own fear is that one of the attractions of the carbon theory of global warming is that it involves controlling human behaviour. Now I personally feel (the science I leave to others) that by the time such a huge change in the earth's prevailing climate is manifest it is too late to do much about it. Indeed, despite what we do, immediately and in consort if such a thing is imaginable, the likelihood is that the effect will continue to grow: Having started a fire, blowing out the match that lit it will do little to halt the process of combustion set in motion.

However, here is an opportunity – world wide catastrophe – which comes along rarely and on its back a number of ideas with little widespread support in normal times have a chance to 'influence debate'. For those whose knowledge and experience of the conservation movement is based on the last fifty years it may come as an unwelcome surprise to learn of the close links between conservationists, conservation theories and European fascism before the Second World War (1939 – 45). There has been a strain in conservation, deep down but nevertheless detectable which stood for something profoundly anti-human; a marked hostility to the "crowd" of mass society. I am nervous that here is such an opportunity to control and direct people's lives which cannot be missed whatever the science says.

Anonymous said...

For a further piece of evidence on the potential role of solar activity on planetary temperatures and climate see http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2007/2006GL028764.shtml, published in Geophysical Research Letters on 19th April 2007, which correlates changes in the temperature of Neptune with solar variability and earth's temperature. As the abstract says "If changing brightness and temperatures of two different planets are correlated, then some planetary climate changes may be due to variations in the solar environment."

Anonymous said...

Lets see some peer reviewed work rather than books that haven't had to undergo rigourous scientific scrutiny. Imagine the theory of human induced had only been backed by a book!This is all very interesting but is certainly contrary to the bulk of peer reviewed evidence. I wish that that manmade CO2 had nothing to do with it - but sadly it does.

Barry Larking said...

"I wish that that manmade CO2 had nothing to do with it - but sadly it does."

First, why wish? Secondly, why sadly?

One detects something of a conumdrum here. If the science is correct, it is correct. Wishfulness and saddness do not apply.

As I mentioned earlier, I have an unpleasant feeling something more than science is present in the current rush to judgement. Incidentally, why the haste?

Anonymous said...

Funny you should pick up on the semantics of my comments rather than the point about lack of peer reviewed data

Barry Larking said...

I feel we are straying away from the original question. Should we all put our selves in the position of punters gambling on a hot favourite, or try to fathom the complexities of recently acquired climate data? Obviously we must have more than hunches and prejudice to guide us, not all of which comes from the opponents of the one size fits all argument of global warming as a consequence of carbon emissions. As I have said earlier there are other reasons to support measures to reduce carbon emissions; but will they be enough? Can one discount the Sun and (peer reviewed) evidence for previous episodes of climate change well before industrialisation and the 21st century?

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