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.
In 2013 a group of climate researchers published a study using statistics and the output of the latest crop of climate models. Their purpose was to show when surface temperatures could be expected to permanently depart from previous historical ranges. Such an event is called an expulsion. Camilo Mora et al. presented precise projections for when these unprecedented regional climates would emerge. Now a second group of researchers argue that their methodology produces artificially early dates at which specific regions will permanently experience unprecedented climates and artificially low uncertainty in those dates everywhere. This is an example of what happens when untrustworthy model outputs are combined with specious statistical methods. The resulting predictions are scary enough to be published in a major journal, but so false that even other climate scientists are moved to protest.
Hoards of non-scientists have been making a career out of pushing “settled science,” particularly when it come to climate change, the eco-socialists' favorite excuse for dismantling the world's existing economic and industrial base. Unlike the notoriously squishy science of climate change, physics is viewed as being mature and on a more solid foundation, at least by those who are physicists. Given the recent furor caused by the IPCC and NCA reports, plus the US EPA's ham handed attempt to institute CO2 Cap & Trade without the agreement of Congress, it is instructional for scientific outsiders to review recent events in both fields. Read on, believers in the myth of settled science and those who think scientific questions are resolved by consensus.
News media around the world have been all abuzz, with headlines declaring “Irreversible collapse of Antarctic glaciers has begun” and “West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse is under way.” The “rapid” collapse threatens to cause sea level change of 4 to 13 feet. Calamity will surely follow. “Collapse will change the coastline of the whole world” shrieked the UK's Guardian, always a good source for mindless rumor mongering. What they are referring to are a pair of new reports that say the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) has pushed its way over a submerged ridge that had been impeding its forward progress, causing the ice sheet to become unstuck from the sea floor. The WAIS is now flowing more freely, and hence more rapidly, into the sea. What the alarmist headlines don't say is that any impacts from this change are centuries to millennia in the future.
The science is settled, the President of the United States assures us. His pet scientists have produced yet another frightening climate report to prove it. Given this President's tenuous relationship with the truth on other matters, a citizen might pause to ask if the claim of settled science is, in fact, true. In the recent past scientific papers have discovered some “unexpected” phenomena that help to regulate climate. In fact, one of the climate change faithful proposed a mechanism affecting the jet stream that could be responsible for this winter's unexpected weather in the northern hemisphere. Only problem, a number of climate alarmist luminaries have dissented from her idea. Remember the consensus that was supposed to shut down all opposing opinions? Never mind. Another study shows statistically that there is no way to establish a human caused warming trend without another 100 years of observation. Of course, if you believe the climate catastrophists the world as we know it will have vanished by then. So is climate science really settled? Here are just some of the most recent indications that it is not.
Forty million years ago, Earth began slipping from a “hothouse” climate to an “icehouse” climate. Currently the planet is in a brief warm interlude know as an interglacial—a period of retreating ice sheets and shrinking glaciers. As the word interglacial suggests, our current comfortable climate is not permanent, but merely a pause between frigid ice age conditions. Though climate alarmists and media talking heads continue to natter on about uncontrollable rising temperatures a more devastating climate change would be a descent into an ice age so cold and so deep that the entire globe freezes over—it has happened before. A new scientific paper reveals what researchers say is a feedback mechanism that acts as a natural thermostat and keeps Earth from cooling to the point of uninhabitability.
While the debate rages regarding global warming and mankind's role in climate change there is one area that is not in dispute: the steady rise in atmospheric CO2 over the last century. Indeed, climate change alarmists celebrated CO2 readings passing 400ppm at Mauna Loa with news releases and renewed predictions of the coming Apocalypse. But carbon dioxide has other impacts, one of which has recently been documented by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Australia's national science agency. According to CSIRO, increased levels of CO2 have helped boost green foliage across the world’s arid regions over the past 30 years. This is because of a process called CO2 fertilization, which unequivocally shows that carbon dioxide is plant food.
Over 4,000 years ago, the Harappan Civilization of the Indus Valley faded and disappeared. Never heard of the Harappans? Theirs was a Bronze-Age civilization located where Pakistan and northwest India are today. With large, well-planned cities, municipal sewage systems and writing that has never been deciphered, they had a civilization equal to Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece. But the Harappans fell victim to what most view as a modern horror—climate change. Sometime around 2,100 BC the monsoon cycle, vital to all of South Asia, faltered. The reliable rains stopped, and man's earliest civilizations fell. Now we are told that California—that progressive paradise on the Pacific—is poised on the brink of its own drought spawned disaster. So desperate have things become that one restaurant chain has threatened to stop serving guacamole and vintners are turning to witchcraft. Can the total collapse of Californian civilization be far behind?
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 current interglacial warm period, the Holocene, started ∼11,500 years ago. At its start, among the dramatic changes in climate was a notable increase in rainfall, triggered by summer insolation values higher than those of today. This caused what is called the African Humid Period in North Africa—a time when the Sahara was dotted with large and small lakes, savannah grasslands, and in some regions, humid tropical forests and shrubs. The African Humid Period ended abruptly ∼5000 ybp (years before present) in many locations, such as western North Africa and northern Kenya. In other places, such as the central Sahara and the southern Arabian Peninsula, change occurred more gradually, taking several millennia. Regardless of the pace of change, those areas are tracts of arid desert today, and the animals and humans who had previously thrived in those formerly verdant regions have either moved or had to adapt to much harsher conditions. This is but one example of nature at its most capricious—the tyranny of climate change.
Unless you have been living in one of the few truly remote areas of the planet, you have been exposed to them. Climate change memes that pass from person to person and are repeated without thought or critical examination. They range from the subtle—bad weather is being increased by global warming—to the banal—over 97% of scientists agree about climate change. We are bombarded with these unsubstantiated ideas over and over again, from talking heads on TV, newspaper headlines, our friends and even the president of the United States. They are blatant untruths that have become legitimized by repetition, until school children and adults alike patriot them to each other. The recent tropical cyclone, Haiyan, has triggered another round of meme infection: it was the worst storm in history, tropical storms are getting bigger every year, there are more storms every year, and, of course, they are all caused by global warming. Trouble is, these “facts” are all false.
Much has been done to vilify carbon dioxide in the media. Listening to the talking heads and on-air “experts” could lead one to believe that CO2 is an evil scourge that the world would be better off without. Nothing could be further than the truth. CO2 is necessary for life on Earth, forests in particular. It is not just plant food, the maligned gas also plays a role in regulating water use by the world's forests. New research has uncovered an unexpectedly strong decrease in H2O uptake caused by increasing CO2. Along with global increases in photosynthesis, forest growth rates, and carbon uptake, higher CO2 levels contribute to enhanced timber yields and improved water availability. Who says higher CO2 levels are a bad thing?
Despite a decade and a half without temperature rise, climate scientists still stubbornly stick to their predictions of steadily increasing global temperatures. These predictions are all based on GCM, computer programs that model the circulation of Earth's atmosphere and oceans and a myriad of other factors in an attempt to simulate our planet's climate system. The problem is, the computer models are severely flawed, flawed at such a fundamental level that two climate modelers have called for a reassessment of all computer models currently in use. Sadly, a number of the flaws they point out have been known to scientists for decades, yet mainstream climate science continues to rely on these broken models, hoping to get lucky with predictions made for the wrong reasons.
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.
Since it was recently Earth Day, a yearly day of celebration and protest by conservationists and assorted greens, it is instructive to take a look at a number of recent studies taken from the scientific literature. The dire predictions made by climate change alarmists are many, far to numerous to all be addressed here, so this article will examine three areas of concern: increased drought, destruction of the world's rainforests, and the die-off of ocean coral reefs. Each of these reported calamities has been linked to increasing anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and that supposed bane of nature, anthropogenic global warming (AGW). These threats have been repeated ad nauseum by talking heads and climate change activists, but the truth is that these predicted outcomes are not as threatening as they would have you believe.