Emotional, agenda-driven politics confronts sound, evidence-based science
Dr Kelvin Kemm
The topic of global warming and climate change is far more scientifically complex than the public is led to believe.
Myriads of newspaper, magazine and TV items over decades have tended to simplify the science to the point at which the general public believes that it is all so simple that any fool can see what is happening. Public groups often accuse world leaders and scientists of being fools, if they do not instantly act on simple messages projected by individuals or public groups.
One often hears phrases like: ‘The science is settled.’ It is not. Even more worrying is that the reality of the correct science is actually very different to much of the simple public perception.
An additional complicating factor is that there are political groupings wanting to change the world social order and who are using the climate change issue as a vehicle to achieve these objectives. They want the ‘science’ to say what they want it to say and are not interested in the truth. Sections of the public, with noble good intentions, then frequently do not realise that they are being induced by such elements to unwittingly support a political agenda, which in reality is unrelated to the climate issue.
I found myself in an informal social debate on these topics, with some people getting rather heated. Attempts to cool the conversation temperature were not so successful. The political aspects of the climate change issue, as always, entered into the discussion. Points like: ‘saving mankind from disaster’ were made with much emotion, and UN and various government political votes on the science were referred to, as if a political vote settled the scientific facts.
Sadly, so much of the climate debate is the result of votes and not of sound science, as determined by scientific methodology and protocol which has been developed over centuries.
From the day when Archimedes ran down the street shouting ‘Eureka,’ science method has evolved along strict lines, highly conscious of the fact that bad mistakes can be made if the correct methodology and protocols are not followed.
The heated social debate, which I referred to, jumped and jolted from point to point. One moment it was science, then politics, then economics; all generating a rather random ‘Brownian motion’ of comment. People with no scientific qualifications of any sort were claiming equal right to a scientific opinion, in competition to the opinions of those of the qualified scientists present.
A result of all this was that a few days later I wrote a numbered list of points which were touched on during the discussion. The numbered list contained science, politics and economics points and I listed them in some logical sequence, to my mind. I emailed the list to a number of the people who were present that evening, and also to a number of other people who were interested, and it was well received. So I later enhanced the list, and the expanded list is presented here.
It is not intended to be totally complete and it does not contain all the scientific references that would have been inserted for a scientific paper. I wanted to make it easy reading. It is also not written as a unified flowing single article, but I believe that it presents a useful guideline to the nature of the current worldwide climate debates. These debates have huge economic consequences for all people.
Politicians, bankers and business people have significant power with respect to the national and international outcomes, but tend to be exposed largely to the daily ‘street science’ on the topic. So we really do need to get the facts and the real science into the various debates, in their correct perspective.
The Wander List: To lead you somewhere
1. Global warming and cooling have always taken place throughout the history of the planet. It is nothing new. Our planet has passed through major events like the Ice Ages and subsequent warmings, which we know were caused by astronomical events and by major geological factors, such as periods of great volcanic activity.
However, the planet has also experienced lesser warmings and coolings such as the Minoan Warming, Roman Warming, Mediaeval Warm Period (MWP) and the Little Ice Age (LIA).
2. All of these warmings and coolings are well documented in the scientific record. There is no argument about that.
3. These warmings and coolings are also documented in the historical record to varying degrees. The Minoan, Roman and MWP are documented. It is also a historical fact that past warm periods in history coincided with periods of health, welfare and general prosperity, whereas cold periods coincided with crop failure, starvation and disease.
The LIA is well documented with writings and paintings. There are numbers of paintings preserved of ice fairs on a frozen River Thames during the LIA. The ice was so thick that paintings show horse-drawn carriages riding down the river. A record even speaks of an elephant walking across the Thames. There is no doubt about this.
4. The MWP and LIA temperatures are known. Not with the accuracy of modern-day electronic means, but well recorded. There is no doubt about the magnitude, up and down, of the MWP and LIA. The clear indications are that the MWP was warmer than today. There is total proof that the LIA was much colder than modern times.
5. Research work carried out in Greenland, near the ancient Norse settlements outside Narsaq in Greenland, by Yarrow Axford and Everett Lasher of Northwestern University in the United States, found that the temperatures experienced by the Vikings, when they farmed the area, after Erik the Red with a fleet of twelve longboats led a Viking group which settled there in 985 AD, were very similar to the temperatures experienced in Greenland today.
Axford and Lasher were able to construct a climate change pattern over the short period of hundreds of years or less, making it the first study to quantify past temperature change in the so-called Norse Eastern Settlement. The researchers were able to measure oxygen isotopes from a trapped mix of fly species preserved in the sediment layers in lakes. They were able to link the oxygen isotopes to precipitation and to link this to temperature variation over time.
Many ancient Viking farms are well preserved today with walls of 1 m to 1.5 m still standing, so evidence of a thriving community exists. The last written records of Viking settlements in Greenland date from 1408 AD after which the settlements died out, apparently as result of a steep decline in temperature, which led to the LIA.
Further evidence from Greenland is that archeobotanist Peter Steen Henriksen of the Danish National Museum in Copenhagen found grains of barley in a Viking rubbish heap. From this evidence Henriksen was able to prove that Vikings were growing grain. The barley was used to make a type of porridge and to brew beer, indicating a stable self sufficient farming community.
6. The MWP and LIA were global. There is no logic to some claims that only Europe warmed during the MWP. What conceivable scientific mechanism could explain a localised warming which existed only over Europe for some hundreds of years?
A research team led by George Brook examined a large ancient cave, the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa which is 140 m in extent. Examining stalactite formation, using oxygen isotopes, they were able to determine past temperatures which showed not only the MWP but also the Roman Warming and the Minoan Warming periods. The LIA was also evident. This cave is in a dry area near the town of Kuruman and contain centuries of undisturbed historical and geological evidence. (G Brook et al (2015), African Archaeological Review 32; 669-700).
Another research team, led by Sharon Nicholson, studied temperatures for the past two thousand years over a large area of Southern Africa, including Lake Tanganyika in Central Africa, the Ethiopian Highlands, the large Cango Caves system in South Africa, and also found evidence of the MWP and the LIA over these regions. (Nicholson et al (2013), The Holocene 23, 8, 1085-1094)
7. All these warmings and cooling’s took place without any contribution from industrially produced CO2, or man-induced anything. So, what caused them?
8. There is some global warming that has happened over the last 150 years. Some people like to say: “Since the start of the Industrial Age.” However, there is no reason to believe that the cause of the current warming is any different to the cause for the MWP and other previous warmings in the historical record.
9. It is interesting that so frequently the phrase is used: ‘since the industrial age’ when referring to global warming. That is the same time that Tzar Alexander II became Tzar of Russia and when Abraham Lincoln became President of the United States. That was also the time of the Crimean War and the US Civil War, which is also the time that Charles Darwin published his famous book ‘On the Origin of Species’. So why reference the industrial age, why not rather say: ‘since the time of Tzar Alexander II’. Clearly the ‘industrial age’ is intended to imply cause and blame, directed at industry.
10. Science proposals are either right or wrong. They are not the result of a popular vote, or consensus, as so eloquently articulated by Dr Michael Crichton, the author of great novels and movies such as Jurassic Park, which were acclaimed for their degree of scientific accuracy.
Note that Crichton was a qualified medical doctor who carried out research work at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and was also a visiting lecturer in anthropology at Cambridge University. So he knew about science and science accuracy. All his famous novels are characterized by a foundation of sound scientific research and a factual basis.
He wrote an excellent novel on the climate change scare, called State of Fear. The novel even contains genuine scientific references. As a result of his ability to explain science to the public, he was invited to give evidence on the climate change issue to a Senate hearing in Washington DC, but there he was insulted by former senators Hillary Clinton and Barbara Boxer. Hillary Clinton said that he should not: “muddy the issues around sound science” (The New York Times 28 Sept 2005) and Barbara Boxer said:“I think that we have to focus on facts, not fiction”.
This pattern has been seen internationally – when serious scientists challenge popular dogma on anthropogenic climate change, then character assassination and derision frequently follows. This in itself is a sign that the scientist has a valid point and some say that insult at such a point is actually a compliment; because it means that that is all that the attacker has left.
Michael Crichton wrote:
In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.
Incorrect ‘popular consensus’ was directed against such people as Galileo, Darwin and Einstein.
These speeches by Dr Crichton are illuminating:
So are some of the comments on Crichton’s speech:
Greenhouse Warming does exist
11. There is an effect called Greenhouse Warming. The name comes from a greenhouse, the interior of which is warmer than the surroundings. However, a greenhouse is mainly warmer than the surroundings because it is sealed up and minimal air circulation passes through it. The ‘heat trapping’ effect due to altered Infra-Red frequencies on re-radiation is actually minimal.
12. A Greenhouse Effect does occur in the Earth’s atmosphere and has always been present. If it were not for this effect, then the Earth would have remained so cold that life probably would not have evolved. The first person to realise that the atmosphere of the Earth probably acted as an insulator was French physicist and mathematician Jean Baptiste Fourier when he mathematically showed that by his theory of heat transfer the Earth should be far colder than it was, unless something like the atmosphere was acting as an insulator. Fourier had published a book in 1822 on his mathematical theory of heat transfer which was controversial at the time.
Then a century-and-a-half ago, physicist John Tyndall (c1822-1893) proved that heat is absorbed by water vapour and carbon dioxide. He realised that the actual molecular structure of gases was the major factor in the heat absorption effects. It was not just a case of more gas, more heat trapping.
He made particular mention of the overwhelming heat absorption characteristics of water vapour. He also mentioned that this heat absorption could influence climatic effects, although the first person to publish the base concept that atmospheric CO2 could influence ground temperature was Swedish scientist; Svante Arrhenius in 1896.
13. The case of whether an Enhanced Greenhouse Effect is manifesting itself now leading to global warming is a totally different matter.
14. Carbon Dioxide does have a heat trapping effect, due to the altered frequencies, of the re-radiated infra red (IR), as required by the laws of physics. Physics states that when IR strikes the ground or anything else, some of it will be re-radiated back but that the radiation emitted from the warmed up object has to be at a different wavelength. Certain wavelengths will pass through certain frequency ‘windows’ in the atmosphere and not through others. So some IR frequencies being re-radiated upwards will get out back to space and some don’t.
Atmospheric transparency to IR is extremely well understood in physics, mainly due to the military development of heat seeking missiles and military IR detection.
The IR ‘windows’ in the atmosphere are well known. Exactly how CO2 interacts with IR is also very well understood, due to the study and development of devices such as carbon dioxide lasers. The heat trapping mechanism of CO2 at the molecular level is far more complex than simple public interest articles lead the public to believe.
15. Also extremely well known are the light and IR reflecting properties of clouds, both from top-down and bottom-up.
Here in the Pretoria and Johannesburg area of South Africa, where I live, there is generally no rain and no cloud cover throughout the winter. This is due to the high inland plateau on which both cities are situated. The plateau is known as the Highveld. Because of the great altitude of both cities, the diurnal temperature range in the winter is great. Temperature can be over 20C max on a winter’s day, but then drop to zero at night.
However, on the few winter occasions when cloud does occur at night, the minimum temperature reached is dramatically higher, by half a dozen degrees. It is common public knowledge that cloud at night in winter results in a warm night and a warm breakfast time. It is common public knowledge that winter night cloud-cover; ‘keeps the heat in’.
16. Although the physics of light and IR interaction with clouds is well understood, the cloud effects are not at all well accommodated in climate computer models. The reason for this is the dynamic nature of cloud cover. It is difficult to accurately project the amount of cloud cover, cloud density and height, and also factors like what terrain is underneath clouds, such as water, flat dry land, mountains, wet jungle, and so on.
The nature of the terrain will determine how much IR is reflected and absorbed. At any moment a substantial proportion of the Earth is covered by cloud, so even small variations in cloud screening will make a substantial difference to ground and atmospheric heating.
17. One frequently hears in the popular media of computer models predicting the state of the global climate a century into the future. But what is not brought to public attention is that the computer models are extremely complex and predict outcomes based solely on what information the researchers choose to put into the model. It is well known that minor variations in the input data can produce dramatic differences in the output scenario. Slight differences in cloud data fed in can completely change the resulting predictions.
It is also on the basis of such computer predictions that the now well known prediction that a 2C rise in temperature above the atmospheric temperature that existed at the time of Tzar Alexander II may be reached by the year 2100. Further computer predictions then project that this 2C rise may then induce some computer-predicted ‘Tipping Point’ past which there will then be some runaway rapid temperature rise leading to disaster. This potential 2C rise has come to be regarded by some groups as a highly accurate and reliable figure. It is not.
18. Another fact which is well known, is that ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ issues are highly politicised. Therefore, the general public debate does not take place between scientists qualified in the field, but largely between people who just voice an opinion.
19. A clear indication of this trend is a Swedish schoolgirl who gathers crowds of marching, chanting schoolchildren to demonstrate in the streets. How many of these children have any idea what a water vapour or carbon dioxide molecule looks like, or for that matter what a molecule is. Or, how a molecule absorbs heat.
What is even more astounding is that the schoolgirl is invited to address national assemblies and even the UN. Imagine a schoolgirl being invited to address the UN on international trade or disarmament. One then has to ask the question; what is the psychology driving the UN and other august bodies who will listen, enraptured, to a schoolgirl lecture them, with rather firm tone of voice, on a complex scientific topic. The phenomenon is most strange.
Every man is a creature of the age in which he lives and few are able to raise themselves above the ideas of the time. Voltaire (1694–1778)