The Crumbling Pillars of Climate Change
One well accepted definition of the “Three Pillars of Science” lists the three as theory, experimentation and computation. For climate science this translates into climate theory, gathering climate data, and climate modeling. The three pillars are due an update in this post Copenhagen, post Climategate world. After reviewing the past year's crop of discoveries and disclosures, it seems that all three pillars are still wobbly at best—even without questionable conduct on the part of warm-mongering researchers.
No doubt about it, it has been a hard year for the global warming true believers—a frigid cold winter, Climategate, and faltering political support, all capped off by the yawn-in at Copenhagen. Among the public, global warming fatigue continues to spread while global warming boosters become ever shriller. But what about the actual science behind the global warming theory? In The Resilient Earth we based our evaluation of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) on the three pillars of climate science given above. This article revisits the evaluation of each pillar starting with the state of climate theory.
The Three Pillars of Climate Science.
Pillar 1: Theory
The most complicated of the three pillars to assess is climate theory, as it touches on practically all of the physical sciences. New discoveries in fields ranging from astrophysics to zoology can change our understanding of the Earth system. A true appreciation of the complexity of Earth's climate can only be gotten by taking “the grand view” of our plant's past. Here is what we said at the end of Chapter 12 of The Resilient Earth:
It should be obvious from the number of times we have quoted scientists, declaring the causes of one aspect of climate change or another as “unknown” or “poorly understood,” that the theoretical understanding of Earth's climate is suspect. The detailed and tortuously defined levels of uncertainty presented in the IPCC reports themselves is an admission of fact: the theoretical understanding of Earth's climate is incomplete in fundamental ways.
In Chapter 7, we discussed the “missing sink” of carbon that has been under study for thirty years without being found. We have cited the recent realization by the European Parliament that animal emissions are more potent than human CO2 and that, for large portions of Asia, it is particulate pollution in the “brown clouds” causing most of the atmospheric warming. We discussed statistical links between climate and the sunspot cycle that are not explained by conventional climate theory.
In Chapter 11, we discussed the astrophysical based theories, linking climate change to solar cycles and even the solar system's path through the Milky Way. These theories, yet to find wide acceptance among climatologists, have been strengthened by new findings regarding ion initiated nucleation (IIN) in the troposphere and lower stratosphere. Recent research has also found a link between the ozone layer and global cooling. A report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) states that current global warming would be substantially worse if not for the cooling effect of stratospheric ozone. Every day, science uncovers new relationships, new factors influencing Earth's climate. Theoretical understanding of how Earth's climate functions can only be called incomplete. Theory—the first pillar of climate science—is weak at best.
Written more than a year ago, how much has climate theory improved since that bleak assessment? To start, new discoveries have occurred that have altered a number of previously held notions. Perhaps most telling was the discovery an atmospheric solar amplifier that magnifies the effect of variations in solar irradiance on Earth's atmospheric temperature. In fact, it seems that climate scientists have discovered that the Sun does affect Earth's climate in a more significant way than previously thought. The abnormally quiet Sun has also led to speculation that Earth may be entering another Little Ice Age, an extended period of cooling climate.
The quiet Sun may herald another Little Ice Age.
Other discoveries include the revelation that the great ocean conveyer belt doesn't flow quite like oceanographers thought. A new “Jelly Pump” was discovered that altered perceptions of the carbon cycle and it was found that the role of aerosols and even airborne bacteria has been greatly underestimated. Of course, none of these factors could have been incorporated into the GCM climate prediction software before their discovery, yet we are asked to believe the old predictions none the less.
New reports verified that ice ages are not caused by CO2 and are indeed caused by orbital cycles. And despite predictions of doom and gloom, bleached coral reefs were bouncing back, the Himalayas were not melting and variation in arctic ice was just a part of nature's normal cycle. NASA's predictions about the solar cycle proved wrong, as did everyone else's, proving that we still don't fully understand the rhythms of the Universe.
The abnormally quiet Sun may be cooling the climate.
A fungus was found to be killing off amphibians, not global warming and contrary to predictions, it was found that the world's oceans continue to absorb CO2 unabated. So even if you believe that CO2 is the root of all evil, things aren't as bad as they have been portrayed by the likes of the IPCC and Al Gore.
Faced with an avalanche of new data, many AGW supporters are back peddling from the “carbon dioxide is the villain” line. This after evidence that laughing gas may have a more important impact on climate than CO2. Another new study claimed that warming oceans reduce low cloud cover letting in more sunlight that further warm the ocean reversing the impact of clouds on global climate. In short, climate theory continues to change and develop, but the science is nowhere near “settled.” Of course, no science is ever truly settled, except in the minds of politicians, Hollywood celebrities and other scientifically naive persons.
Pillar 2: Experimentation
While the obvious big climate data story of 2009 was the Climategate scandal—revelations that a number of prominent climate change scientists may have colluded to suppress data and present a view more supportive of global warming—there were other, more scientifically significant developments. According to State of the Climate in 2008, a special supplement to the August, 2009, issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, greenhouse warming has been stopped in its tracks for the past 10 years. The iffy nature of many sources of historical climate data naturally leads to constant refinement and reinterpretation. We summed up the second pillar this way in TRE Chapter 13, Experimental Data and Error:
All experimental data contain some uncertainty, but the uncertainties in climate data are often larger than the predictions published by the IPCC. This is due to the extensive use of historical proxy data to try and predict future climate trends. IPCC experts have testified that “temperatures inferred using such methods have greater uncertainty than direct measurements.” If the first pillar of climate science, the theory, is incomplete, then the second pillar, the experimental data, must be called uncertain.
One of the claims often made by AGW supporters to bolster their case is that various historical climate change events didn't take place or the events were localized and not really global in nature. New research proves these assertions to be false. One group of researchers rediscovered the Medieval Warm Period using the same type of tree ring data that AGW proponents attempted to used to banish that well documented period of preindustrial global warming. Another research group working from data from Peruvian glaciers has shown that the Little Ice Age was, in fact, a global event. More evidence that the “hockey stick” graph is false, if not an outright fraud.
The IPCC “hockey stick” graph keeps coming back.
Using satellite infrared spectroscopy to provide an almost global perspective on the near-surface distribution of water vapor, a new report in Science has identified more water vapor inaccuracies. Coral data from the South Seas reinforced the conclusion that CO2 has not been responsible for climate change over the past 700,000 years.
Some alarmists speculated that global warming had pushed Greenland past a “tipping point” into a scary new regime of wildly heightened ice loss and rapidly rising sea levels. Then, from the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, came reports based on direct observation that Greenland's Ice Armageddon had been called off. Those claiming that Greenland's ice-sheets are racing (for glaciers) toward oblivion countered with improved satellite data and yet more computer models. The debate rages on but Greenland remains relatively unchanged.
Helheim Glacier's flow to the sea sped up in 2005, as evidenced by the 5-kilometer retreat of its leading edge, but by 2006 it had slowed back down. Credit: Ian Howat.
There was also an ice scare from the top of the world, a claim that Arctic ice was disappearing and that soon the Arctic would be ice free. A report from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado finds that Arctic summer sea ice has increased by 26%, or 409,000 square miles, since 2007. This must come as a relief to the “endangered” polar bear, supposedly threatened with extinction by the melting ice. This in the face of reports that the polar bear population in the region, along the Davis Strait, has doubled during the past 10 years. It would appear that climate scientists, so enamored of their satellites and computer models, have forgotten that sometimes, in the words of Yogi Berra, “you can see a lot by just looking.”
Perhaps the most important finding in experimental climate science was the discovery that most of the “forcings” used to calculate climate change caused by different environmental factors were wrong—with obvious impact on efforts to model climate. You just can't make accurate predictions based on uncertain data, and the data remain uncertain.
Pillar 3: Computation
If it has been a bad year for climate data collection it has been worse for climate modelers. All of the new discoveries mentioned under pillars one and two lead directly to inaccuracies in climate models. If you have the theory wrong you can't get the model right, and if you have the fundamental physical constants wrong your results can't help but be wrong also. But this is nothing new for climate modeling. As we stated in TRE Chapter 14, The Limits of Climate Science:
Hansen's report is a blunt admission that, after 30 years of development and more than $50 billion in funded research, current climate models are just not up to the job. In fact, if the predictions of the Third Annual Report are compared with the predictions in Annual Report 4, the IPCC's efforts are moving in reverse—the new predictions in AR4 have a wider range of uncertainty than those in the TAR (1.1-6.4°C vs 1.5-5.8°C).
Here we see the limits of climate science: incomplete, subjective data are used to feed simplistic, unverifiable models in an attempt to make predictions about a complex system that is only partially understood. Climate science is simply too immature to be relied on for definitive predictions about future climate change. Despite widespread recognition of the pitfalls and limitations of modeling, the IPCC would ask us to base worldwide technological, environmental, economic and political policy on model predictions.
Perhaps most disheartening for climate change propagandists has been the failure of their computer models to accurately predict the future disasters they seem to long for. Peer reviewed papers reported that different models consistently yield different results while changing model scale factors can radically change model predictions.
New findings point to inadequate model representations of water vapor, known to be the most important greenhouse gas. A paper in Science reported that a careful study of satellite data show the assumed cooling effect of aerosols in the atmosphere to be significantly less than previously estimated. Unfortunately, the assumed greater cooling has been used in climate models for years. Most embarrassing of all was the failure of all current models to accurately predict the decade's cooling temperature trend.
No IPCC climate model predicted the temperature trend over the past decade.
Still, this very public failure didn't stop the climate change clique from trying to use models to discredit theories opposing dogmatic belief in CO2 driven climate change. While this computerized skullduggery was underway a new statistical model was reported that predicts practically no further temperature rise for the rest of the century. But perhaps the most damaging information to surface this past year is the revelation that all current GCM are subject to “irreducible imprecision.” Mathematically speaking, climate models are broken and can't be fixed.
Climate Science Summarized
Remember those claims of “consensus” within the scientific community? We quoted Stanley B. Goldenberg, an atmospheric scientist at the Hurricane Research Division of NOAA, as saying “It is a blatant lie put forth in the media that makes it seem there is only a fringe of scientists who don’t buy into anthropogenic global warming.” That statement was proven true when hundreds of scientists came forward to protest the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. The consensus seems to be crumbling as public opinion turns against what is now seen to be sloppy science.
“For how many years must the planet cool before we begin to understand that the planet is not warming? For how many years must cooling go on?” asks geologist Dr. David Gee, the chairman of the science committee of the 2008 International Geological Congress. A number of scientists who backed the CO2 based AGW theory are now suffering from buyer's remorse. According to atmospheric physicist James A. Peden, formerly of the Space Research and Coordination Center in Pittsburgh, “many [scientists] are now searching for a way to back out quietly, without having their professional careers ruined.”
We summarized our evaluation of the three pillars of climate science this way in The Resilient Earth: “There are three fundamental problems that limit the effectiveness of climate science. These are lack of understanding of Earth's climate system, inherent uncertainty in baseline data, and reliance on conceptual computer models for prediction of future climate.” Unfortunately, we still lack a good understanding of Earth's climate system, new discoveries not withstanding. Baseline climate data are no more accurate, perhaps even less so than previously thought, and computer models remain the perfidious oracles they have always been—that is their fundamental nature.
As we begin the last year of the first decade of the 21thcentury, those who would have us believe that mankind is causing catastrophic global warming are still perched precariously upon the three shaky pillars of climate science. But science changes and moves on, discarding failed theories while seeking new more correct ones. This should be particularly unsettling to those non-scientists who believe they know the truth about global warming but have no idea why. Perversely, their ignorance makes them more, rather than less, certain that they are correct. Witness the protests by NGO know-nothings at Copenhagen. Unfortunately for them, the case for anthropogenic global warming is crumbling like the pillars of an ancient temple.
Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical.