Daily Oil Bulletin
June 30, 2008
Lawrence Solomon: Airing the dubious science of global warming
In The Deniers, Lawrence Solomon profiles 28 topflight scientists whose work undermines the case that humanity is heating up the planet to a destructive degree. Further, the executive director of Toronto’s Energy Probe shows that the scientific “consensus” behind that theory has been engineered in part by hardball political tactics.
The veteran environmentalist’s latest book names individuals whose grants evaporated when their research got out of line, and he describes pressure on scientists from climate bureaucrats at the United Nations.
“This media-inflated issue is diverting scarce resources away from environmental and economic problems that are much more urgent,” the writer told a breakfast meeting in Calgary last week.
Solomon’s parents immigrated from Rumania to Montreal when he was two. “I have no academic background,” the self-educated activist acknowledges. Even so, Energy Probe has proven an intellectually formidable foe of nuclear power, hydro-electric dams and urban sprawl.
In 1978, its fluent leader wrote The Conserver Solution, holding that polluters violate other people’s property rights and suggesting how to introduce ecological values into economic life. The Deniers, his seventh book, was published this year by Richard Vigilante Books.
Its investigation originally took shape as columns in the National Post. Solomon notes carefully that his “deniers” typically accept the possibility of anthropogenic global warming but they don’t believe that it’s been convincingly demonstrated. While the likes of former U.S. vice-president Al Gore and Canada’s David Suzuki dismiss their adversaries as industry-funded stooges or kooky individuals, The Deniers shows that the doubters are frequently better qualified than the primary proponents of global warming.
One denier is Syun-Ichi Akasofu, founding director of the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska. This geophysicist is best known for identifying the origin of storms in the aurora borealis. Twice named one of the world’s 1,000 most-cited scientists, he’s written 10 books and 550 professional journal articles. Based on ice core analysis, Akasofu postulates that the planet has been steadily warming at the rate of about half a degree Celsius since the 1660s, long before human-spawned emissions of carbon dioxide could be a serious factor in global temperatures. The Alaskan thinks the modest heating trend may well be a natural recovery from the preceding Little Ice Age, a period so cold that European crops failed widely, the Thames River froze over in England and the Dutch invented ice skates.
Ice cores themselves are problematic. The United Nations IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change) works from the assumption that long-term ice formations preserve ancient air intact, allowing for the precise reconstruction of the atmosphere over millions of years.
“These ice cores are a foundation of the global warming hypothesis but the foundation is groundless,” cautions Zbignieuw Jaworowski, past chairman of the Scientific Committee of the Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection in Warsaw, past chairman of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, and a participant or chairman of some 20 Advisory Groups of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Environmental Program.
The IPCC thesis is an “arbitrary assumption” that Jaworowski says has now “clearly” been proven false. Water remains liquid and present in ice at temperatures as low as -72 degrees Celsius and it can greatly alter the carbon dioxide content of the trapped air. So does pressure, which squeezes out CO2 at ice depths below 70 metres. The Polish scientist notes that the effect of these factors is to create a relatively uniform CO2 content within the trapped air bubbles, as illustrated by core samples taken from the Taylor Dome in Antarctica. That uniformity, Jaworowski asserts, contradicts evidence in favour of greater CO2 variability in ancient times from other sources such as fossil leaf stomata. In his view, science still lacks a precise means of tracking atmospheric CO2 in the past.
To determine the impacts of carbon dioxide on future temperatures, the IPCC relies on computerized models of the atmosphere. Among the many skeptics concerning that approach is Antonino Zichini, a physicist who’s credited with discovering nuclear anti-matter and a great deal more. Solomon calls him Italy’s greatest living scientist.
Zichini explains that climate models involve “strongly coupled, non-linear” equations whose “free parameters” are in reality guesswork. With four free parameters, he notes, a mathematician can build a model that describes exactly everything that an elephant can do. Given a fifth parameter, the elephant can be forecast to fly. Climate modelling, according to its critics, invariably involves a great many more than five free parameters due to uncertainties about the effects of clouds, dust, moisture and more.
Climate scientists often point out that their critics lack formal qualifications in the discipline. The Deniers reverses that charge with a chapter entitled “The Case of the Disappearing Hockey Stick.” Michael Mann from the University of Massachusetts wowed the world with data indicating that temperatures in the northern hemisphere had remained relatively flat for most of the past 1,000 years, then veered sharply upward at the beginning of the twentieth century. This “hockey stick” graph has been reproduced many thousands of times by print and broadcast media.
“More than any other piece of evidence, it made global warming a serious popular and political issue,” Solomon says, noting that Mann had tremendous credibility as a lead author of the IPCC’s “Climate Change 2001: Third Assessment Report.”
Stephen McIntyre, a Canadian mining scientist, noticed that Mann’s work looked strikingly similar to the rigged graphs often used by promoters to hype mining shares. He and Ross McKitrick, an economist from the University of Guelph, determined that Mann’s statistical methodology was deeply flawed. The U.S. Congress commissioned Edward Wegman to sort out the controversy on this pivotal issue. Wegman, a mathematical statistician by training, headed the U.S. Navy’s advanced research in ultra-high speed computing, presided over the International Association of Statistical Computing and has published eight books in his field.
Wegman confirmed the Canadian assessment of the hockey stick, whose shape stems from technical errors. The Congressional investigator’s report concluded that “the atmospheric science community, while heavily using statistical methods, is remarkably disconnected from the mainstream community of statisticians in a way that is not true of the medical and pharmaceutical communities.” Mann, although an accomplished climate scientist, was ignorant of important statistical developments as were his colleagues and IPCC third parties who reviewed his research.
The Deniers casts equally grave doubt on the purported spread of malaria in a warmer world, on the supposed melting of Antarctic ice (ten times larger by volume than Arctic ice), and on the much-headlined but inaccurate concern that hurricane activity has intensified due to global warming. Several profiled scientists outline the emerging possibility that solar irradiation cycles are warming not just Earth but Mars. Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of the Space Research Laboratory at the major astronomical observatory in Saint Petersburg, hypothesizes that another half-century round of serious global cooling is about to begin. The Russian government has focused research at the International Space Station on this alarming possibility.
Solomon says he still has 100 more well-qualified scientific deniers to profile. His book’s final chapter – “The Carbon Catastrophe” – attacks the concept of carbon credit trading as pointless in terms of human well-being and destructive to the interests of many poverty-stricken people.
“We’ve seen peasants pushed off their land because carbon credits have artificially increased the value of fast-growing eucalyptus plantations,” the author reports. “The proponents of global warming are far better funded and publicized than the scientific deniers. But truth counts, and I’m still optimistic that world can be brought to its senses.”
He may be right. A new poll from the Strategic Counsel shows that gasoline prices now top the environment as the primary concern of Canadians. The survey, based on data collected in April, indicated that 18% of Canadians and 19% of Americans felt gasoline prices were their top priority. Canadians who rated the environment as most important declined to 16% in the most recent survey from 22% in January. In the U.S. 33% gave their first priority to the economy. That trend may well migrate north if the economies of Ontario and Quebec weaken any further.
“Canadians have never had much depth of conviction about global warming and most are delighted to find out that the problem has been vastly exaggerated,” Solomon says.