Countering the contrarians on global warming

July 17, 2009

Just how hot is it going to get?

That’s what everyone wants to know, and the focus of a lot of research. But parsing through the science can present some problems, with plenty of opportunity for mischief.

Aaron Huertas has been in this game for a while, so he figured there might be problems as soon as he saw the headline on the release from Rice University: “Global warming: Our best guess is likely wrong.”

The text of the release, which was promoting a paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience, noted that climate models can’t explain all of the heating indicated in the geologic record of a warm period some 55 million years ago. And one of the scientists who did the research told Reuters that this could mean current forecasts are underestimating how hot Earth’s atmosphere will get in the future.

But Huertas, press secretary at the Union of Concerned Scientists, figured the initial headline from Rice University might be used by those skeptical about climate change — he calls them contrarians because he feels all scientists are skeptical — to argue that the carbon dioxide generated by human activities isn’t to blame for global warming.

Sure enough, USAToday’s headline read “Could we be wrong about global warming?” There was no reference to the notion that this research could indicate a greater global warming trend ahead.

The blog Right Side News went further, with a post entitled “UN models on global warming fundamentally wrong.” The subhead read: “Study shakes foundation of climate theory! Reveals UN models ‘fundamentally wrong’ – Blames ‘Unknown Processes’ — not CO2 for ancient global warming.”

“We haven’t heard a member of Congress that opposes climate legislation incorrectly cite this study yet, but it’s probably only a matter of time,” Huertas said in an e-mail accompanying his non-profit group’s analysis of the study.

He sees this as a matter of science education, made more difficult when those who oppose acting to curb climate change choose their own facts. “You’re dealing with an opposition movement that literally doesn’t care what the research is, they can just make stuff up,” Huertas told me.

One good thing: most peer-reviewed journals, including Nature Geoscience, are available in some form online. Check it out yourself, but be warned: the headline on this particular article is “Carbon dioxide forcing alone insufficient to explain Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum warming.”

Photo credits: REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus (workers during heat wave in Las Vegas, July 16, 2009); REUTERS/Francois Lenoir (sea otter cools off with an ice block, Antwerp, Belgium, July 2, 2009)


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As the Union of Concerned Scientists and some others have pointed out, the study in question addresses only CO2, and says nothing about methane, which is 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than is CO2. If the warming from CO2 triggered a large melt of the Arctic permafrost (like the one we’re seeing right now), which contains 1.5 TRILLION tons of carbon, then it easily could have released enough methane to cause that unexplained portion of the warming.

For more details, see: 009/07/16/permafrosts-shadow/

Posted by Lou Grinzo | Report as abusive

Co2 represents less than 0.05% of our atmosphere. The man made element of this is less than 3%. If the current total represents say 380 PPM (Parts per million) then the man made part of this is so miniscule it would be impossible that man made CO2 could possibly have any effect on climate.
However, CO2 does prove to be a very convenient revenue meter and there is plenty of evidence to support that.
Mr Gore has made a packet on it and nobody can tell you what UK tax payers pay Mr Gore as UK Climate Change Advisor!
As for Global warming, in the UK it is mid July, very wet, very cool and autumn leaves are falling. Work it out for yourselves!

Posted by Neil Wyatt | Report as abusive

“As for Global warming, in the UK it is mid July, very wet, very cool and autumn leaves are falling. Work it out for yourselves!As for Global warming, in the UK it is mid July, very wet, very cool and autumn leaves are falling. Work it out for yourselves!”

If you are downwind of a large block of ice (Greenland and what remains of Arctic ice sheet) that is rapidly melting, you will notice that it is cool and wet. However, that does not mean that the ice is not melting. It is precisely because it IS MELTING that you feel cool. Think it through and then ask yourself if it will get warmer after most of the ice has melted.

Current estimates are that at current trends within 5 to 20 years time the Arctic will be ice free in the Northern Hemisphere summer. Now, ask yourself how much methane, a more potent CO2 gas, will stay frozen in Arctic bogs after the ice melts. After this, don’t forget to take that next step and consider the next relevant question: How heat intolerant are your grandchildren?

Posted by S. G. Poss | Report as abusive

Mr. Wyatt,

How can the manmade part of current levels of CO2 be only 3% when CO2 has gone from 280 ppm to 390 ppm in the last 150 years? That is an increase of 39%!

An increase of 39% in 150 years is off the geological time scale!

Furthermore, there is evidence that CO2 was even much lower, 7000 years ago, when there were not so many humans running around burning wood to cook food. Scientists now venture to say that man has been warming the planet since he discovered fire.

As to the cool temperatures in the U.K., well have a look at northern Siberia where it was 77 °F, yesterday. Warm air from the southern latitudes is pushing the cap of cold air out of the Arctic and to the south, what’s left of it, that is.

Posted by Tenney Naumer | Report as abusive

Here’s a postscript from Aaron Huertas, who e-mailed to say: “This study does relate to a broader way in which contrarians take advantage of the nature of science: Scientists are very open about what they don’t know. The uncertainties in climate science are all about how fast and extreme warming will be, based on 1) emissions scenarios and 2) climate sensitivity. These broad categories are really where the bulk of climate science research is right now. If you take what the contrarians are saying at face value, they’re basically (saying) they won’t be satisfied unless scientists build them a time machine and take them to 2050 to show them the climate impacts. Unfortunately, we don’t have a time machine. We just have the most advanced understanding decades of scientific research can give us about what our future will look like, based on curbing our emissions or letting them continue unabated. But when you examine the arc of their arguments, it’s clear they aren’t being intellectually honest and that we shouldn’t take their arguments at face value.”

And here’s a postscript of my own, to give a bit of context. The Right Side News blog entry was written by Marc Morano, who used to be the spokesman for Sen. James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who is easily the most vocal climate change skeptic in Congress. In April of this year, Morano left that post to run the contrarian site.

Posted by Deborah Zabarenko | Report as abusive

Mr. Wyatt, you would be well advised to Wikipedia Charles Revelle and James Keating. There work with infrared mass spectrometry is ground breaking. You will find Mr. Naumer is correct and you are outrageously wrong. Scripps Institute of Oceanography has a good website as well to learn more about climate. I thought Brits were well read?

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

[…] Not me. Environment Blog Archive Countering the contrarians on global warming | Blogs | […]

Posted by A Challenge to Climate Change Skeptics – | Report as abusive

As for being well read, I tend to read everything on this topic though one can accept that some people can be selective in their reading.
It is very easy for futurologists to predict weather in say 2050 when so many of today’s tax payers will not be around to demand a rebate. Likewise, to suggest melting ice caps are the cause of another washout summer in the UK when so few of us get to see Greenland and the polar area in real time.
Incidentally, the cause of most of this wet cool weather is the jet stream positioning itself to the South of the UK rather than to the North where it would normally sit at this time of year. There is nothing new in jet stream movement; The very cold winter of 1962 was caused by the jet stream splitting around the UK, leaving us with cold continental air.
While I can’t get to Greenland I can tell you that in July 1942, some US aircraft, including P38’s crash landed in Southern Greenland. One P38 was recovered in 1992, with 268 feet of snow and ice over it. (Check out ‘P38 Glacier Girl’) Years’ later another attempt to rescue another aircraft was abandoned due to ever more covering of the white stuff.
Every year I look forward to watching ‘Ice Road Truckers’ filmed in the Canadian Arctic. They were still trucking last year!
The Caitlin Arctic Survey 3 had to be rescued from the Ice by aircraft last May due to the conditions when they were hundreds of miles from the Pole. In fact it was so cold their scientific instruments wouldn’t work and had to resort to drilling holes.
In Antarctica, Weather Station Harry stopped sending out data, but that didn’t stop Alarmists from publishing data to suggest warming. A team from a US University eventually found the weather station under 20 feet of snow and ice.
The above are practical examples of recent cold weather rather than a broadcaster under threat telling us that Polar Bears may become extinct!
77F in Siberia in summer is quite normal. The last continental warm weather record to be broken was in Antarctica. (1975 / 59F) You will have to go a long way back for a record high in any other continent.
Let’s just keep to the facts and stay off the hype please. Now back to my reading…

Posted by Neil Wyatt | Report as abusive

“You’re dealing with an opposition movement that literally doesn’t care what the research is, they can just make stuff up,”

This is a baseless accusation and can just as easily be levelled against global warming promoters who are responsible for most of the sensationalist headlines in the media today. Science is meant to be open to constructive debate and questioning of findings. Labelling people who question anthropogenic global warming theory as “deniers” and “flat earthers” merely because they hold different beliefs is not how science should be practiced.
With the secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organisation, Michel Jarraud telling the BBC in april 2008 “that temperatures have not risen globally since 1998″ and with 2009 looking like it will continue this trend it is time for open debate. The UN’s IPPC should allow it’s work to be peer reviewed by scientist other than people within their closed community who believe so fervently in the theory that they aren’t willing to accept any findings at odds with it.

Posted by Eoin Whelan | Report as abusive

Mr. Wyatt is very well read like many Englishmen who distrust vaccines and feel more comfortable with the virus. For them Science is a Government conspiracy and any global warming infinitely preferrable to spending tax payer moneys in counteracting it.

Posted by G. Lima | Report as abusive

As the Global weather patterns are changing in a unprecedented manner, the Global Warming has been underestimated by each and every nation. You do not have to go to the Arctic or the Antarctica to find out the weather change. It is everywhere in every inch of the Globe.
Green Taxation from consumer based economies, is one of the factors will raise so called the state sponsored green thinking ..

Posted by Gamini s Greener Globe | Report as abusive

The “logic” of Global Warming Deniers is succinctly displayed by Mr. Wyatt: the fix for Global Warming is expensive, therefore Global Warming does not exist.

Posted by D Sakarya | Report as abusive