Acton Institute Powerblog

Global Warming Consensus Alert: Flame On!

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It must be tough to be Al Gore sometimes. We all know that the weather has a habit of not cooperating with his “major addresses” on global warming; how many times have his big pronouncements been accompanied by major snowstorms?

Presumably, it would be better to try doing one of these speeches in the middle of summer, when you’re less likely to be iced out by the weather. But wouldn’t you know it – just when Gore gets his sweltering summertime platform to trumpet the need to act on the basis of the Global Warming Consensus, a big fight breaks out in a scientific organization that makes said Consensus look more like a sham than ever.

First things first: In Washington last Thursday, Al “a modern Jeremiah” Gore delivered a “major address” on global warming where he asserted that “The survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk… And even more — if more should be required — the future of human civilization is at stake.”

This assertion is based, of course, on the unshakable scientific consensus that human activities – specifically our carbon emissions – are causing potentially catastrophic climate change to occur. On the basis of that solid foundation of science, Gore went on to explain that we must:

…do away with all carbon-emitting forms of electricity production in the United States within 10 years, replacing them with alternatives like solar, wind and geothermal power, conservation and so-called clean-coal technology in which all carbon emissions from the burning of coal are captured and stored.

It’s entirely possible that Al Gore doesn’t believe what he’s saying here. Goodness knows that he’s not shy at all about taking liberties with the truth in order to advance his agenda. But really, the ridiculousness of this particular bit of puffery is breathtaking. Columnist Vincent Carroll took Gore to task in the Rocky Mountain News thusly:

Gore would subject 300 million people to an experiment in which baseload power that is needed 24 hours a day to keep the economy – and our livelihoods – humming is replaced willy nilly by power sources still susceptible to natural disruption (such as lack of wind or lingering cloud cover), that cost more (at least in the case of solar) and are far less plentiful in some regions than others (Colorado is lucky at least in that regard).

He’d inflict monumental utility price hikes on consumers who’d pay for both the shutdown of old plants and construction of the new – with who knows what economic fallout.

With such a short timetable, we’d have to shred this nation’s federal system of utility regulation in favor of national directives, presumably from Congress or a muscle-flexing Environmental Protection Agency charged with regulating greenhouse gases. Not since World War II have we seen anything remotely comparable in terms of central planning.

[Cue Superfriends announcer voice] Meanwhile, back in the real world…
A controversy has erupted within the American Physical Society over recent actions taken by the editor of the APS Forum on Physics and Society on the topic of global warming. Here’s what was initially reported:

The American Physical Society, an organization representing nearly 50,000 physicists, has reversed its stance on climate change and is now proclaiming that many of its members disbelieve in human-induced global warming. The APS is also sponsoring public debate on the validity of global warming science. The leadership of the society had previously called the evidence for global warming “incontrovertible.”

In a posting to the APS forum, editor Jeffrey Marque explains,”There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for global warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution.”

The APS is opening its debate with the publication of a paper by Lord Monckton of Brenchley, which concludes that climate sensitivity — the rate of temperature change a given amount of greenhouse gas will cause — has been grossly overstated by IPCC modeling. A low sensitivity implies additional atmospheric CO2 will have little effect on global climate.

Larry Gould, Professor of Physics at the University of Hartford and Chairman of the New England Section of the APS, called Monckton’s paper an “expose of the IPCC that details numerous exaggerations and “extensive errors”

Once this report started circulating, the leadership of the APC was quick to deny that anything had changed with the APS position on Global Warming, noting that the Forum on Physics and Society is only one of 39 APS units, and posting the following disclaimer (in red) above Monckton’s paper:

The following article has not undergone any scientific peer review. Its conclusions are in disagreement with the overwhelming opinion of the world scientific community. The Council of the American Physical Society disagrees with this article’s conclusions.

Monckton has taken offense to the posting of the disclaimer:

This seems discourteous. I had been invited to submit the paper; I had submitted it; an eminent Professor of Physics had then scientifically reviewed it in meticulous detail; I had revised it at all points requested, and in the manner requested; the editors had accepted and published the reviewed and revised draft (some 3000 words longer than the original) and I had expended considerable labor, without having been offered or having requested any honorarium.

The offending paragraph has since been revised, but not removed (see Monckton’s paper for the current version).

Even as that battle was playing out the other day, Dr. Roy Spencer from the University of Alabama (and formerly of NASA) was testifying in front of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee with evidence that the global climate is much less sensitive to increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide than had been previously assumed. (It should be noted that those prior assumptions have been built into all of the climate models that are used by the IPCC.) So if not CO2, what could be the cause of the warming experienced in the 20th century?

One necessary result of low climate sensitivity is that the radiative forcing from greenhouse gas emissions in the last century is not nearly enough to explain the upward trend of 0.7 deg. C in the last 100 years. This raises the question of whether there are natural processes at work which have caused most of that warming.
On this issue, it can be shown with a simple climate model that small cloud fluctuations assumed to occur with two modes of natural climate variability — the El Nino/La Nina phenomenon (Southern Oscillation), and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation — can explain 70% of the warming trend since 1900, as well as the nature of that trend: warming until the 1940s, no warming until the 1970s, and resumed warming since then…

While this is not necessarily being presented as the only explanation for most of the warming in the last century, it does illustrate that there are potential explanations for recent warming other that just manmade greenhouse gas emissions. Significantly, this is an issue on which the IPCC has remained almost entirely silent. There has been virtually no published work on the possible role of internal climate variations in the warming of the last century.

And if you need more, here’s even more recent research on the connection between the oceans and climate.

In a way, I suppose Al Gore’s sense of urgency is understandable; right now, the only thing that’s getting hotter is the rhetoric of climate alarmists. But as more and more cracks begin to show in the catastrophic human-induced global warming “consensus,” perhaps we’re reaching the point where rationality will be returned to the climate change debate.

Marc Vander Maas

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