Open mind sees climate clearly

Lawrence Solomon
FP Comment
June 29, 2007

He’s the world’s most cited climatologist, according to an analysis in the journal of the British Institute of Geographers. He’s also the fifth-most-cited physical geographer in the world, and the 11th most cited among all geographers.

He has written some 230 articles and five books, including in such fields as geology, limnology, meteorology and archeology.

He has twice seen his papers in Environmental Conservation awarded prizes for being “best paper of the year,” and he’s a member of the United Nations Global 500 Roll of Honour, created to recognize “outstanding achievements in the protection and improvement of the environment.”

He’s Dr. Reid Bryson, considered by many the “father of scientific climatology,” and he’s also pronounced on the most consequential climate issue of the day — man-made global warming. His verdict: “That is a theory for which there is no credible proof.”

Dr. Bryson, aged 87 and still professionally active, has become anathema to many environmentalists for his views on global warming. But those with long histories will remember him as an inspirational figure in the 1970s who challenged the wasteful ways of our consumer society, and warned of a dire need for lifestyle changes. Mother Earth News, a bible of the environmental movement, in the preamble to an extensive 1976 interview, described him as “an environmentalist in the broadest sense and his thoughts on the planet, its human population, and that population’s activities range as widely and carry all the force of such acknowledged environmental spokesmen as Barry Commoner, Paul Ehrlich, and Dave Brower.”

Dr. Bryson believed then, as he believes now, that humans affect the climate, in ways that both warm and cool the atmosphere. “Dozens of scientific papers, in fact, have been published about industry’s consumption of fossil fuels, its creation of carbon dioxide, and how the resultant “greenhouse effect” will cause a rise in the temperature of the atmosphere,” he told Mother Earth News.

“I find it interesting, however, that the same people who write those papers generally seem to overlook the even greater amounts of particulate matter which those same factories and foundries pump into the air, [cooling the atmosphere]. Not to mention the tremendous quantities of particulates now kicked into the atmosphere by poor farmers in primitive agricultural and marginal semi-arid regions all over the world.”

Humans change the climate in other ways, too, chiefly because “the Industrial Revolution, by making the modern megalopolis possible, has certainly concentrated the release of heat into the atmosphere.? Take New York City, for example. The heat produced by human activity in New York during the winter is greater than the amount of heat the city receives from the sun.”

As a result, large cities become warmer and drier, with different rainfall patterns than the surrounding countryside.

“It is quite possible that the growing megalopolis-type urban areas here in North America and the new concentrations of people in Europe and elsewhere are already slightly modifying the atmospheric circulation patterns of the whole hemisphere. In fact, since we already know that these metropolitan areas do alter the micro-climates around them, it would be hard to believe that they have no effect at all on the macroclimate.”

Dr. Bryson’s message in the 1970s attracted environmentalists, especially those drawn to the apocalyptic. As did many in that era, Dr. Bryson warned that the Earth faced catastrophe from overpopulation, and that even a small change in climate could have far-reaching consequences. But unlike many, Dr. Bryson wanted to find out what changes in climate might be in the offing, and what their consequences might be. He urged open-mindedness and investigation: “First, let’s accept the fact that the climate could be changing on a global scale right now. Second, let’s try to find evidence which either confirms or denies that such a change is taking place. And, third, if our evidence suggests that the Earth’s climate is indeed changing in any way ? let’s see if we can find a logical reason for such a change to be taking place.

“Furthermore, let’s do all this ? not because we want to scare anyone ? not because we want to find some terrible global calamity just over the horizon ? and not because we want to draw attention to ourselves by forecasting the future. Let’s just quietly and rationally try to figure out where the climate might be headed so we’ll be able to prepare ourselves well in advance for any changes that might lie ahead.”

As things would turn out, Dr. Bryson’s advice was ignored. Science was pursued irrationally and not to seek answers, he believes, but to suit other agendas. “There is very little truth to what is being said and an awful lot of religion,” he has decided. “It’s almost a religion where you have to believe in anthropogenic global warming or else you are nuts.”

As for the biggest believer, Al Gore, and his movie, An Inconvenient Truth: “Don’t make me throw up,” he exclaims. “It is not science. It is not true.”

And as for the often claimed scientific consensus on climate change, he doubts it: “I know of no vote having been taken, and know that if such a vote were taken of those who are most vocal about the matter, it would include a significant fraction of people who do not know enough about climate to have a significant opinion.”

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Urban Renaissance Institute and Consumer Policy Institute, divisions of Energy Probe Research Foundation. Email:


Reid Bryson joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1946 and in 1948 became the founding chairman of its department of meteorology. In 2007, he became emeritus professor of the university’s department of oceanic and atmospheric sciences. Dr. Bryson’s research broke path in diverse fields, among them the Indian monsoon, airstreams and the reconstruction of past climates. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the American Meteorological Society. He received his PhD in meteorology at the University of Chicago.

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