That the discussion of global climate change, even among professional scientists, has become utterly schizophrenic was dramatically demonstrated by a symposium—or was it symposia?—at the Denver meeting sponsored by the Division of Small Chemical Business.
The Sunday morning session, entitled “Global Climate Change: What Citizens of the World Need to Know,” featured five prominent climate scientists talking about measurements of how the Earth’s climate is changing and how emissions of greenhouse gases is forcing that change. The afternoon session, entitled “A Critical Look at Global Warming Data: An Examination of Driving Factors in the Wickedly Complex System Called Climate,” featured six speakers whose focus is undermining the data and analyses of scientists like the ones who spoke during the morning session. There was almost no overlap in the audiences.
Because of a prior commitment, I was able to attend only the first four of the morning session talks. That was unfortunate because I am very interested in ocean acidification resulting from increased atmospheric CO2, the topic of the fifth talk. Nevertheless, the first four talks built solidly on each other to make the case that humans are dramatically disrupting Earth’s climate.
Stanley Manahan, an emeritus chemistry professor at the University of Missouri, published the first edition of the textbook “Environmental Chemistry” in 1972; the ninth edition is now out and Manahan is working on the 10th edition. In his talk, Manahan compared the current debate over climate change to the debate over chlorofluorocarbons and Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer 30 years ago. “Rowland and Molina’s findings on CFCs were ridiculed by some,” Manahan said, but the discovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica in the early 1980s vindicated their ideas and resulted in regulations that eventually banned CFC production and use.
Ted A. Scambos, the lead scientist at the National Snow & Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, observed that “the past two decades have seen large changes in the Earth’s cryosphere, especially the Arctic Sea ice and the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica.” These changes have been greater than those associated with the ends of previous ice ages, Sambos said.
There has been a steady decline in Arctic Sea ice, with 2007 a record breaking year; 2011 “is vying to set a new record,” Sambos said. The difference is that there were a number of exceptional factors contributing to the decline in 2007 that are not factors this year. “What was exceptional not long ago is now becoming the norm,” Sambos said. By 2100, there will be at least three months each year where there will be no Arctic Sea ice, Sambos predictted. “It will be a different planet.”
David M. Anderson, of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s Climatic Data Center in Boulder, discussed various aspects of paleoclimatology. Data from ice cores and oceanic floor cores provide good data sets on Earth’s climate dating back as much as 50 million years, Anderson said. That data indicates that the natural variability of the surface temperature of the Earth is small—about 1 °C—in the absence of a forcing factor. The data also indicate that Earth’s surface temperature is sensitive to the atmospheric concentration of CO2—to the tune of a 4-5 °C increase in response to a doubling of atmospheric CO2.
And Pieter P. Tans, senior scientist at NOAA’s Climate Monitoring & Diagnostics Laboratory, presented definitive proof that, the “increase in greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere are entirely due to our emissions. We are committing the Earth to thousands of years of enhanced greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And the direct impact of greenhouse gases on Earth’s heat balances is known accurately.”
Tans insisted that climate change deniers and skeptics who claim that all of the data on atmospheric CO2 isn’t available for their analysis are simply wrong. “This is the way these people work,” he said in obvious exasperation. “They just make stuff up. All of our data is available on the web.”
And the afternoon session? The speakers participated by webinar, which was fine except that the first speaker, William F. Stewart, a partner with the law firm NLdH, cut out for several minutes just after he had declared the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change an “overtly political process.” Stewart didn’t question whether atmospheric CO2 was rising or even that climate change was occurring. But he did suggest there wasn’t much anybody could do about it. Population is increasing, he pointed out, a greenhouse gas treaty is unlikely, and it’s technically challenging to wean humans from fossil fuel use.
The second speaker, Nir J. Shaviv, a physicist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, drew a connection between sunspot activity, the amount of cosmic rays reaching the Earth’s atmosphere, cloud formation, and global warming. I’ve been told since that this is not a new set of connections to prove that sunspots are causing the warming that’s been observed on Earth, but it smacked of tin-foil hat loopiness to me when I hear Shaviv’s talk.
I only made it through one more of the six afternoon talks. Ross R. McKitrick, an economist at the University of Guelph, is a superstar among climate change deniers. McKitrick argues climate change data that shows that Earth has warmed significantly over the past 30 years has been analyzed improperly and is wrong. There are thousands of climate scientists around the world working with a variety of data sets and a variety of analysis techniques, and they’re all wrong. Oh, and by the way, anyone who challenges McKitrick’s approach is wrong, too. The arrogance is nothing short of astonishing.
Occam’s razor isn’t always the best metric against which to judge competing ideas, but it often yields a correct result. What amazes me about climate change skeptics and deniers is their utter rejection of this principle. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, its atmospheric concentration has been rising since the beginning of the Industrial Age, Earth’s temperature is rising—these are empirical facts. I can’t understand why some individuals will go to such great lengths to deny their connection.
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