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Friday, September 9, 2011

Galileo and Global Warming

Some scientists today, like Galileo, are challenging a theory those in power support almost religiously. The church threatened Galileo and put him under house arrest. The US federal government is blocking domestic energy production because its leaders believe global warming is dangerous. The media frequently claim there is universal scientific agreement about this. Both the government and the media seem to ignore respected scientists who say global warming is not dangerous, based on their analysis of the scientific evidence.

This is not just an academic question.  It is a case where the government siding with one side of the scientific debate (and ignoring existence of the other side) has major negative economic consequences for the US, because it affects domestic energy production of oil, coal and gas. This jeopardizes US jobs, economic growth, and energy independence, while China, Russia and many other countries expand their use of coal and oil. Without confusing science and economics, I'll discuss the two topics in relation to each other, focusing mostly on the science in this paper.

One eminent scientist contradicting the orthodoxy is Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His papers analyze the scientific evidence, demonstrating the evidence and climate models do not show global warming is dangerous.

My goal in this paper is to give a high-level summary of Dr. Lindzen's papers, and some pointers to other scientists on his side of the debate. My purpose is simply to show that there are respected scientists who say global warming is not dangerous, and to introduce some of the scientific issues to the reader. I don't say that just because Dr. Lindzen challenges the conventional wisdom he is correct. My only view on climate change science at this point is that there is not a true scientific consensus and there are recognized scientists who contend global warming is not dangerous. I'll give some remarks below about the nature of scientific progress.

Professor Lindzen was a lead author of Chapter 7, Physical Climate Processes and Feedbacks, of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Third Assessment Report and has published more than 200 scientific papers and books. He is a recipient of the American Meteorological Society's Meisinger and Charney Awards, the American Geophysical Union's Macelwane Medal, and the Leo Huss Walin Prize. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society. He has been a member of the NRC Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate and the Council of the AMS, and a consultant to the Global Modeling and Simulation Group at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Lindzen (2006c) writes there is a general scientific consensus, though with some controversy, on the following three statements, which he calls the basic agreement:
"1. The global mean surface temperature is always changing. Over the past 60 years, it has both decreased and increased. For the past century, it has probably increased by about 0.6 ±0.15 degrees Centigrade (C). That is to say, we have had some global mean warming.
2. CO2 is a greenhouse gas and its increase should contribute to warming. It is, in fact, increasing, and a doubling would increase the greenhouse effect (mainly due to water vapor and clouds) by about 2%.
3. There is good evidence that man has been responsible for the recent increase in CO2, though climate itself (as well as other natural phenomena) can also cause changes in CO2. "
    However, he shows these statements do not imply global warming is dangerous, and that instead the evidence indicates global warming is not a cause for alarm. Lindzen (2008) writes:
    "The basic agreement frequently described as representing a global warming 'consensus' is entirely consistent with there being virtually no problem. Actual observations suggest that the sensitivity of the real climate is much less than found in computer models whose sensitivity depends on processes that are clearly misrepresented. Attempts to assess climate sensitivity by direct observation of cloud processes, and other means, point to a conclusion that doubling of CO2 would lead to about 0.5°C warming or less."
    "Moreover, the fact that we already have three-quarters of the climate forcing expected from a doubling of CO2 means that if one truly believes the models, then we have long since passed the point where mitigation is a viable strategy."
    "At this point, it is doubtful that we are even dealing with a serious problem. ... Even if we believe the problem to be serious, we have already reached the levels of climate forcing that have been claimed to be serious. ... [T]here is widespread and even rigorous scientific agreement that complete adherence to the Kyoto Protocol would have no discernible impact on climate."
    "The impact of CO2 is nonlinear in the sense that each added unit contributes less than its predecessor."

    "The easiest way to understand this is to consider adding thin layers of paint to a pane of glass. The first layer cuts out much of the light, the next layer cuts out more, but subsequent layers do less and less because the painted pane is already essentially opaque."
    Lindzen (2006c) explains that climate change computer models over-predict the amount of warming that will be caused by CO2:
    "Even if we attribute all warming over the past century to man made greenhouse gases (which we have no basis for doing), the observed warming is only about 1/3-1/6 of what models project."

    "Essential to alarm is the fact that most current climate models predict a response to a doubling of CO2 of about 4C ... The reason for this is that in these models, the most important greenhouse substances, water vapor and clouds, act in such a way as to greatly amplify the response to anthropogenic greenhouse gases alone (i.e., they act as what are called large positive feedbacks). However, as all assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have stated (at least in the text - though not in the Summaries for Policymakers), the models simply fail to get clouds and water vapor right. We know this because in official model intercomparisons, all models fail miserably to replicate observed distributions of cloud cover. Thus, the model predictions are critically dependent on features that we know must be wrong."
    Since the climate change models predict more warming than is observed, Lindzen (2008) explains that to make the climate change models agree with observations, scientists creating the models introduce 'corrections' due to aerosols. (Aerosols are any suspension of particles or liquid droplets in the atmosphere, e.g. clouds, dust, ashes, pollen, etc.)
    "This raises two possibilities: either the models are greatly overestimating the sensitivity of climate to man-made greenhouse gases, or the models are correct, but some unknown process has canceled most of the warming. Calling the unknown process “aerosols” does not change this statement, since aerosols and their impact are unknown to a factor of ten or more; indeed, even the sign is in doubt.

    In arguing for climate alarmism, we are choosing the second possibility. Moreover, we are assuming that the unknown cancellation will soon cease."
    Having assumed that aerosols are producing a cooling effect that reduces the warming predicted by the models, so that the models agree with observations, scientists then have to predict the cooling effect of aerosols will greatly diminish in the future, for global warming to be greater in the future than would be predicted based on the observed evidence. Lindzen (2008) writes:
    "Unfortunately, the properties of aerosols are largely unknown. In the present instance, therefore, aerosols constitute simply another adjustable parameter (indeed, both the magnitude and the time history are adjustable, and even the sign is in question).

    This is remarked upon in a recent paper in Science, which notes that the uncertainty is so great that estimating aerosol properties by tuning them to optimize agreement between models and observations (referred to as an inverse method) is probably as good as any other method, but that the use of such estimates to test the models constitutes a circular procedure. This is as strong a criticism of model procedures as is likely to be found in Science. The authors are all prominent in aerosol work. ...

    New uncertainties are always entering the aerosol picture. Some are quite bizarre. A recent article in Science proposed that airborne dandruff has a significant role. Other articles suggest that the primary impact of aerosols is actually warming. Of course, this is the beauty of the global warming issue for many scientists. The issue deals with such small climate forcing and small temperature changes that it permits scientists to argue that everything and anything is important for climate. "
    Thus, Lindzen's (2007) analysis concludes "serious and persistent doubts remain concerning the danger of anthropogenic global warming despite the frequent claims that ‘the science is settled.’"

    Orlowski (2011) chronicles a conference at Cambridge University that brought together climate scientists on both sides of the question. Predictably they did not reach a consensus, but at least they gave presentations on scientific issues from different perspectives.

    Even if 98 out of 100 scientists were to agree that global warming is dangerous, that alone would not prove it or make it correct. Science can take decades to arrive at a correct theory, and the Earth's climate is an extremely complex system.

    Scientists have been wrong about many scientific questions in the past. Only a few decades ago, almost every scientist rejected now-established theories such as continental drift, or the creation of large craters on Earth by asteroids. Science must always  be open to rational debate and consideration of new theories and new evidence, which may be provided by even an unknown scientist whom no one considers eminent.[1] In the case of global warming, rational challenges are being presented by recognized scientists. New theories and evidence about potential causes of climate change other than CO2 are also being presented. (Svensmark, 2007)

    Ernest Rutherford said, "You should never bet against anything in science at odds of more than about a trillion to one."[2] Nowadays the government is betting perhaps a trillion dollars in economic growth [3] against the scientific evidence that global warming is not a dangerous cause for alarm. The government is placing this bet by regulations blocking rapid development of domestic conventional energy. Again, this is jeopardizing US jobs, economic growth, and energy independence, while China, Russia and many other countries expand their use of coal and oil. [4]


    Lindzen, Richard S. (2006a) Climate of Fear. The Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2006.

    Lindzen, Richard S. (2006b) On the Nature of Climate Change. Leo Huss Walin Prize Lecture, May 2, 2006.

    Lindzen, Richard S. (2006c) Climate Alarm and Scientific Illiteracy. Leo Huss Walin Prize Lecture, May 3, 2006.

    Lindzen, Richard S. (2007) Taking Greenhouse Warming Seriously. Energy & Environment, Vol. 18, No.7+8, pp. 937-950.

    Lindzen, Richard S. (2008) An Exchange on Climate Science and Alarm. In Global Warming: Looking Beyond Kyoto (Ernesto Zedillo, editor), Brookings Institution Press, Washington, DC

    Moore, Stephen (2011)  How North Dakota Became Saudi Arabia. The Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2011.

    Orlowski, Andrew (2011) Would putting all the climate scientists in a room solve global warming ... Experts meet skeptics at Cambridge. The Register, May 13, 2011.

    Svensmark, Henrik (2007)  Astronomy & Geophysics Cosmoclimatology: a new theory emerges. Astronomy & Geophysics, Vol.48, No.1, pp. 18-24.


    [1] For example, this occurred with the theories of the young Albert Einstein.

    [2] The exact wording was "at odds of more than about ten to the twelfth to one". I am still looking for the original source and explanation of the quote. It seems doubtful Rutherford was joking. More likely he was referring to his discovery of the atomic nucleus via unexpected scattering of alpha particles, or possibly to later discoveries in quantum physics.

    [3] Stephen Moore (2011) cites Harold Hamm, discoverer of the Bakken fields: "Mr. Hamm calculates that if Washington would allow more drilling permits for oil and natural gas on federal lands and federal waters, 'I truly believe the federal government could over time raise $18 trillion in royalties.' [...] This estimate sounds implausibly high, but Mr. Hamm has a lifelong habit of proving skeptics wrong. And even if he's wrong by half, it's a stunning number to think about. So this America-first energy story isn't just about jobs and economic revival. It's also about repairing America's battered balance sheet. Someone should get this man in front of the congressional deficit-reduction supercommittee."

    [4] To help achieve energy independence, Congress should enact the Open Fuel Standards Act to ensure that US automobiles can run on methanol, which can be made cleanly without subsidies from coal, natural gas, or any kind of biomass (waste, inedible plants, etc.) The US has enough coal to make methanol to power all our autos for 150 years. (Zubrin, Energy Victory, p.25)