The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters & Climate Change is the latest book by Roger Pielke, Jr., noted political scientist and professor in the Environmental Studies Program and a Fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). In it he addresses the controversial subject of whether natural disasters are becoming more frequent and more fearsome due to manmade climate change. This short volume is an excellent summary of his work in this area and a reference that anyone serious about climate change should have on their shelf. After receiving an advance copy of the work, here is my review.
California, the state that raises 30% of US fresh produce, is in the grip of a severe drought. Billed as the driest period in the state's recorded rainfall history, climate change alarmists have hastened to blame the parched conditions on anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Paleoclimate history tells a different story, however, and highlights the amazingly short attention span of AGW advocates. Going beyond the 163-year historical period, science shows that there have been other, longer lasting and more severe droughts than the current dry spell. Today's drought is minor when compared with ancient Megadroughts, which occurred between 850 to 1090 and 1140 to 1320. In fact, the worst droughts suffered by the American Southwest all happened so long ago that human memory fails us.
The world is entering the 16th year of the greatest climate science embarrassment in modern history—the pause in global warming. Despite rising IPCC confidence levels and hundreds of computer model predictions, that darned old climate is just not behaving like the boffins say it should. After all, CO2 keeps rising, and we all know that CO2 drives Earth's climate like the thermostat in a house... or not. No longer able to sweep the lack of warming under the observational rug, the climate change community had started flailing about for answers: the heat must be hiding deep in the ocean, it must be soot from China, some have even begun to wonder whether there is something wrong with their models. Most are still convinced that the missing heat is hidden somewhere because they will not accept the simplest explanation—the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming is fundamentally incorrect.
Science is supposed to be unbiased, seeking to understand the workings of nature untainted by the personal beliefs or prejudices of its practitioners. Nature alone is the arbiter of truth—when science and nature disagree it is science that is wrong. But science is practiced by human beings, who cannot keep their beliefs, whether engendered by religious, philosophical, or political leanings, from skewing any result that is equivocal or highly complex. Presented here are two examples taken from the pages of Nature, perhaps the world's primer scientific journal. One is a rehash of temperature history in northern latitudes with a new statistical twist, the other a report on a study regarding fracking. One shows how what scientists leave out of their studies may be more important than what they put in. The other shows how a headline can spin the results of a report even when its authors are carefully neutral in their conclusions.
Most people have never heard of the Anthropocene era and with good reason—it is not an officially recognized geologic time period. It is the invention of a small group of scientific busy bodies who evidently have nothing better to do than try to effect a change in the official timeline of Earth's past. The International Commission on Stratigraphy, the body charged with formally designating geological time periods, has been petitioned in the past and just recently a group of chuckle-heads attending the Society for American Archaeology meetings in Hawaii have brought the idea up again. Only problem is, the proponents of the Anthropocene have fallen to arguing amongst themselves—when did the “Age of Man” really start?
The threat of widespread and persistent drought, ruining crops and threatening water supplies, is constantly cited as an outcome of global warming. Media talking heads, climate scientists (who should know better) and even the American President have all made this assertion—and there is nothing to back up the claim. Results presented recently at the annual assembly of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna show that forecasting drought is still beyond the reach of current climate models. Models run against historical data have either predicted periods of drought at the wrong times or missed them all together. Yet climate alarmists continue to spread this pernicious lie, preaching damnation with the certitude of an Old Testament prophet.
It has been vilified in the press and maligned in school classrooms by the ignorant. Opposing it has become a cause célèbre in Hollywood an a litmus test for liberal politicians. Labeled man's chosen weapon for ravaging nature and laying waste to the environment this poor, largely misunderstood gas is in fact essential to our existence. Without carbon dioxide, CO2, we would not be here and Earth would be a frozen lifeless chunk of rock. Forget that life would never have developed on a planet without greenhouse warming, a recent scientific study say the daemon gas has rescued the planet from the deep freeze at least twice during the Neoproterozoic era, roughly 750 to 635 million years ago.
Once again the fear-mongering hoards of lay-climatologists are denouncing the importance of the Medieval Warm Period (MWP), or Medieval Climate Optimum as some refer to it. On the strength of a single new study, involving algal lipids from a lake in Svalbard, Norway, one pundit referred to the “so-called” Medieval Warm Period and impugned the significance of the Little Ice Age for good measure. Of course the writer, an “ecological journalist,” saw nothing wrong with using such a dismissive and pejorative term since it is IPCC promoted doctrine that today things are warmer than they have ever been since the onset of the Holocene. Yet literally hundreds of other studies have shown that the MWP was as warm or warmer than today and that is the real consensus among paleoclimatologists.
Over the past 50 years or so, the Antarctic Peninsula, the northernmost part of the mainland of Antarctica, has experienced rapid warming and the collapse of a number of ice shelves. A new temperature record derived from an ice core drilled on James Ross Island, has triggered a reassessment of what triggered the recent warming trends. This new core provides the best record of climate events on the peninsula going back at least 20,000 years, and may extend back as far as 50,000 years. From this new data a team of researchers has constructed the most detailed history of climate on the Antarctic Peninsula known to science and it has revealed a number of interesting things. Most important of these is the fact that this area undergoes bouts of rapid warming periodically and that things were at least as warm on the peninsula 2,000 years ago. So much for “unprecedented” warming on the Antarctic Peninsula.
After decades of debunking and statements by responsible scientists that climate is not weather and individual anomalies are not an indication of climate change, the government funded IPCC lackeys at the UK's Met Office and America's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have publicly attributed recent bad weather events to man-made climate change. These irresponsible boffins' shrill claims illustrate the desperation in the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) camp in the face of declining public concern over climate change. While admitting that it is impossible to blame a single event on global warming, climate alarmists are claiming attribution is possible as long as it is framed in terms of probability. They have gone from lies, to damn lies and now, finally, to statistics.
Carbon offsets, favored by PC Hollywood stars and green politicians alike, have been used by the rich and powerful as a way to make their energy wasting lifestyles appear to be OK from an ecological point of view. Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio have both used carbon offsets to greenwash their jet-setting travel on private aircraft. Airlines even offer the unwashed masses an opportunity to purchase carbon offsets before boarding a flight—you may not be able to fly like they stars but you can lie like the stars. Finally, a voice from the green ranks has spoken up to denounce carbon offsets for what they are: “carbon offsetting is without scientific legitimacy and is dangerously misleading.”
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2011 has been awarded to Daniel Shechtman of the Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, for the discovery of quasicrystals. Quasicrystals are non-repeating regular patterns of atoms that were once thought to be impossible. Most people would agree that this is the type of unexpected discovery that deserves a Nobel Prize, but this is not just the story of an amazing scientific revelation. After first discovering evidence for quasicrystals in 1982, using an electron microscope in a US government lab, Shechtman was expelled from the lab and subjected to years of ridicule by other scientists. You see, quasicrystals were thought impossible by crystallographers at the time and even though Shechtman had evidence backing his claim, he was ostracized by mainstream science.
Nostradamus, the famous prognosticator, was said to have received his visions of the future by scrying—staring into a pool of ink for hours on end. The climate science equivalent of a gazing pool is the computer climate model, huge collections of complicated computer code that supposedly crank out frightening visions of the future. Most of the discussion about climate change has centered on the global aspects of the anthropogenic global warming (AGW), but now a number of climate mystics are turning their modeling dark arts to doing regional predictions. Why? The better to frighten the public and elicit funding from government coffers. Unfortunately, as climate researchers struggling to sharpen their fuzzy picture of what the future holds one fact has been ignored—there is even more uncertainty in regional models than in the global ones.
Tracking the flow of ice in the Arctic is difficult. Reconstructing the extent and flow in times past is even more difficult. An interesting new report has turned to driftwood, embedded in the Arctic pack ice, as a way of deciphering Arctic climate conditions over the last 10,000 years. The researchers found a climate record that is in good agreement with previous histories, including such events as the Medieval Warm Period, the Little Ice Age and the Holocene Thermal Maximum. In fact, they found temperatures during the HTM to be 2° to 4°C higher than today. They also found a complementarity oscillation in sea-ice abundance between East and West that is not correctly simulated by current ice models.
Precaution is now an established tenet of environmental governance, law, and public policy at the international, national and local levels. When it comes to pollution, toxic chemicals, genetically modified organisms, endangered species and climate change, the so called precautionary principle has become the guiding doctrine for timorous souls everywhere. But more than that, it is a codification of the idea that before anything new is allowed, it must be proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to cause no harm to anything in anyway, under any conditions, anywhere—period. It is “look before you leap” on steroids and a major legal weapon used by environmentalists and neo-Luddites everywhere to hamstring human progress. Raising angst to an art form, progress hating activists have managed to block needed energy and industrial expansion at a critical time in humanity's development.