Last week, I wrote to John Tomlinson, “a local conservative columnist” for The Flint (Michigan) Journal to ask him for the sources he used for a recent column on the scientific evidence against global warming. He indulged me, and “thousands” of others” who expressed interest by supply those sources in a mass email. In return, I have a few thoughts that I have put in the form of an open letter.
Thank you for taking the time to share the sources you used in your Flint Journal essay of 19 January 2009, “It’s time to pray for global warming,” which attracted considerable attention this past week in the blogosphere. I hope you have yet more time to study my analysis of those sources, as I believe there is good cause for you to reconsider your position on the subject. In many cases, your source material directly contradicts your thesis.
For example, in your essay you wrote that
…the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center released conclusive satellite photos showing that Arctic ice is back to 1979 levels.
Yet if you follow the link provided in your email, you will find a comprehensive academic website that supports the anthropogenic global warming theory. Indeed, the
Arctic Climate Research Center Polar Research Group at the University of Illinois* contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. If you look at this graph of current conditions from the The National Snow and Ice Data Center, you will see that sea ice extent is currently significantly below the 1979-2000 average. This past summer, sea ice extent almost beat last year’s record mininum and sea ice volume did set a new record low.
The other sources you provide in your email are similarly unhelpful to your argument. I will deal with each in turn.
This story, from Pravda, no less, contains no recent science. It discusses Milankovitch cycles, which are the most likely causes of the last million years worth of ice ages, but does not reflect today’s understanding of how much longer the current interglacial will last. As I wrote recently, our best guess is several tens of thousands of years, not taking into account climate change, which may actuall forestall the next ice indefinitely.
If you have been paying attention to the popular media recently, you may have heard or read that new analysis of satellite data shows the West Antarctic, and not just the Antarctic Peninsula, has been warming at a rate of about 0.2° per decade, which is in line with the rest of the planet. The findings are reported in last week’s Nature and you can read about it without a subscription here. The UIUC data in no way contradicts this perspective. As New York Times reporter Andy Revkin wrote last week:
“We now see warming is taking place on all seven of the earth’s continents in accord with what models predict as a response to greenhouse gases,” said Eric J. Steig, a professor of earth and space sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, who is the lead author of a paper to be published Thursday in the journal Nature.
This is a link to a list of supposed experts assembled by Marc Morano, a staffer for Sen. James Inhofe, hardly a scientific source. Since it was released, it has been thoroughly discredited. Many have pointed out that the list has more than a few names of people with no expertise in climatology, and of those that are qualified to pass judgment, many actually support AGW. There is even a blog devoted to examining each of the alleged 650 experts. Reviewing it would be instructive.
• “a great general information source for reliable global warming facts: http://www.isthereglobalwarming.com/
Following that link takes us to a page filled with errors of fact, such as “Global temperatures were 2 degrees centigrade warmer more than a few times including the Medieval and Roman Periods.” The author, Geoff Pohanka, conflates US and global temperature records and misrepresents the science of sunspot cycles, among other things. Indeed, the notion that solar cycles are too blame has been debunked so often it is hard to pick the best reference to draw to your attention. Here is one by Gavin Schmidt, who works for NASA.
You also kindly sent me a copy of an earlier essay, “The B.S. In Global Warming,” in which you make several more scientific errors. First, you write that “cattle produce considerably more greenhouse gas than humans.” While livestock flatluence is an important contributor to global warming, the truth is cattle produce more methane, but not more greenhouses gases overall. In any case, methane is just as much a product of human activities as is the burning of fossiel fuels.
Listening to environmentalists, you would certainly say carbon dioxide (CO2) [is the major cause of greenhouse warming]. But you’d be wrong. By far, the largest cause is water vapor – humidity. It accounts for at least 70% of the entire problem. Nobody disputes this; if you don’t believe me, look it up.
There is some truth in this, insofar as water vapor is a greenhouse gas, but if you do “look it up” you will discover it is important to understand the difference between a forcing and a feedback. Carbon dioxide and methane are forcings ;;;; they cause the planet to warm. Water vapour is a feedback. The amount of water in the air is a consequence of temperature, and it in turns results in more warming. There’s nothing we can do about feedbacks, but we can control anthropogenic forcings.
You bring up sunspots: “What’s the next most powerful factor? Two recent studies, Israeli and Danish (confirming numerous others), clearly show it’s the sun.” See the discussion and reference above.
Your next reference to CO2 is most disappointing of all:
In fourth place, at 365 ppm (compared to 30,000 ppm for water vapor), is CO2. This tiny factor (responsible for less than 1% of the total problem)…
The simple truth is CO2 is the main greenhouse gas when it comes to changing the net heat balance of the earth. Again, it is critical to know your forcings from your feedbacks.
For information on this and just about every other important factor involved in climate change, the Worldwatch Institute has recently published a great little glossary, complete with colorful diagrams that you might find useful. It’s freely available here.
The penultimate paragraph of your previous essay is also troubling:
The global warming argument, is actually three arguments: 1) Is the earth getting warmer? 2) What’s causing it? 3) What to do? According to Richard Lindzen, Ph.D., the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at MIT, considered by many America’s top climatologist, none of these has yet to be answered.
In reality, the first two questions have been adequately answered by the thousands of working climatologists who have been studying such questions for decades. What to do is policy question. And there are few disinterested obversers who would call Richard Lindzen “America’s top climatologist” as his mispresentation of climate science is legendary. He is closely associated with the fossil fuel industry and is hardly a credible source.
In summary, it is always good to see that even those with whom I disagree recognize the contribution that science can make to establishing public policy. Too often science is dismissed as conspiracy or self-interested pandering. But it takes time to understand something as complicated as climate change, time I fear you have not yet devoted to the subject.
* Sadly, it turns out that I failed to notice that there is no such thing as the Arctic Climate Research Center. It was a fabrication of Michael Asher at Daily Tech. You can read similar corrections here and here from reputable journalists. George F. Will, who made the same mistake, has yet to issue any corrections.