Is Global Warming a Fact and a Consensus?

A. It Depends on What “Global Warming” Is

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean©¤neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master©¤that’s all.”

   Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, 1948

There is certainly a sense in which global warming is a fact, just as the popular press repeatedly blares.

The earth is warmer now than it was during the Little Ice Age. There is plenty of evidence: temperature records, tree rings, and retreating glaciers, to name a few examples. There is no debate. And except for a few people like Al Gore and Bruce Babbitt©¤the latter reportedly wept at seeing some bare ground in Montana, denuded of its former glacier covering though probably now sporting new raiment of grass and flowers©¤there is no sorrow and no hysteria. This warming trend has, after all, been going on for some 300 years.

The “global warming” that is supposed to be an emergency-illustrated by the earth as an egg in a frying pan on the cover of the April 9, 2001, issue of Time magazine©¤is an entirely different matter.

This “global warming,” in the name of which phalanxes of international protesters are mobilizing, features melting ice caps with flooding of coastal regions and islands; storms; droughts; the spread of tropical diseases; forest fires; and “an environmental and economic disaster of planetary proportions,” with a disproportionate effect on minorities and the poor. The cause of this catastrophic climate change is assumed to be human activities that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, primarily the combustion of coal and hydrocarbon fuels (oil and natural gas), in the course of generating electricity, providing transportation, or manufacturing things. (These are often referred to as “fossil fuels” because of the theory that they were formed from the remains of ancient forests.)

This type of global warming is not a fact, but a forecast based on a computer model; it is an hypothesis.

The evidence for impending human-caused climate catastrophe is nonexistent. The global experiment of adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere has been underway since the Industrial Revolution. The hypothesis has been tested and has been disproved. The evidence against it is overwhelming, as summarized in a landmark review article first published in The Medical Sentinel, Sept/Oct 1998, “The Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide” by AB Robinson, SL Baliunas, W Soon, and ZW Robinson, available on the internet at www.oism.org/pproject/s33p36.htm. The story is told concisely in the 23 figures in this article. A videotaped 52-minute lecture given by Dr. Arthur Robinson, the primary author of this paper, at Southern Oregon University, may be viewed at that web site by clicking on “Global Warming Lecture.” This includes color slides.

Highlights of this evidence:

  1. The earth’s temperature has fluctuated dramatically in the course of recorded history. At the period of the Medieval Climate Optimum, vineyards thrived in Britain and agriculture in Greenland. A study of temperature in the Sargasso Sea (an area of the North Atlantic between the West Indies and the Azores), as inferred from isotope ratios in marine organisms in the sediment, shows that today’s temperature is a little below the 3,000 year average. These past changes could only be due to natural phenomena. (See Figure 2 in Robinson et al.)
  2. Most of the temperature increase in the past century occurred prior to 1940. However, 82% of the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide occurred after 1940. Looking at the fine details of the two changes, it appears that the carbon dioxide increases tend to follow rather than precede the temperature increases. Just as warming a bottle of Coca Cola drives off the dissolved carbon dioxide, an increase in global temperature would cause outgassing of the carbon dioxide dissolved in the ocean. However, it is reasonable to conclude that emissions from human activities make a noticeable contribution to the observed increase. (See Figure 12 in Robinson et al.)
  3. The most accurate measurements of the temperature of the lower atmosphere (troposphere) are by radiosonde (weather balloon) and satellite. These methods use independent technologies, but the results are in close agreement. Over the past 20 years, the global average temperature has a very slight downward trend. (See Figure 7 in Robinson et al.) A graph published in 1995, apparently timed to have maximum influence at an international global warming conference, showed an increase in tropospheric temperature at latitudes 30 S to 60 S, between 1961 and 1988. However, when one includes data from 1957 through 1995, the trend disappears (see Figure 14 in Robinson, et al).
  4. Surface temperatures can be used to show an upward trend in temperature, although tropospheric temperatures are both more accurate and more appropriate according to the climate change model. These measurements are biased by the urban heat island effect. One subset of available measurements chosen by NASA to support its conclusions about global warming is markedly biased toward heavily populated areas. (See Figure 13 in Robinson et al.)
  5. A study of actual numbers of hurricanes and maximal wind speeds during hurricanes shows a slightly decreasing trend between 1945 and 1997. (See Figure 16 in Robinson et al.)
  6. While an illustration in Scientific American may show Florida being submerged, sea level measurements show a rise of about 2 mm per year or 8 inches per century, with no acceleration in the rate of increase during the 20th century. (See Figure 15 in Robinson et al.)

There is an enormous disconnect between discussions of global warming in the popular press (or schoolbooks) and in the scientific literature. In the latter, even statements by the global warmers are hedged with uncertainty. They speak of “identifying a human fingerprint” of changes against a very noisy background of natural fluctuations©¤not the stuff of dramatic cover art, headlines, or soundbites.

B. A Consensus of Whom?

At conferences of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), scientific debate is no longer in order. The prospect of catastrophic global climate change due to emissions of carbon dioxide from human civilization is taken as a given. John Houghton, head of the IPCC Science Panel, asserts that ¡°worldwide there were no more than 10 scientists active in the field and well-versed in the arguments who disagreed with the notion of human-induced climate change.¡±

What does that mean? Fred Singer, President of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, translates: “Of the scientists recognized by the IPCC and committed to our position ¨C a highly select group ¨C they still found 10 dissenters.” He observes that the IPCC has never polled all the contributing scientists about whether they agree with the conclusions in the Summary for Policymakers.

Early in June, 2001, the National Academy of Sciences released a report prepared in response to a request from the White House, which the media took as proof of scientific consensus on the global warming hypothesis. The press noted that prominent skeptics had been included on the 11-man panel producing the report.

The New York Times, in front page news on June 7, 2001, proclaimed in the lead paragraph that “a panel of top American scientists declared today that global warming was a real problem and was getting worse, a conclusion that may help the Bush administration alter its stand on the issue as the president heads next week to Europe, where the United States has been condemned as the world’s worst and most arrogant polluter.” Only in the very last column on p. A25 did the Times mention the report’s conclusion that “the international panel had a tendency in its executive summary to understate caveats and focus on the harsher possible consequences of global warming.”

Michelle Mitchell of CNN asserted that the report represented “a unanimous decision that global warming is real, is getting worse, and is due to man. There is no wiggle room.”

“Simply untrue,” wrote panel member Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2001. The full report made it clear that “there is no consensus, unanimous or otherwise, about long-term climate trends and what causes them.” We are quite confident of three things, Lindzen said: (1) The temperature is now about 0.5 degrees Celsius higher than a century ago; (2) atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have risen over the past two centuries; and (3) carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas whose increase is likely to warm the earth. A very modest change in temperature would be expected from carbon dioxide alone. The catastrophic scenarios invoke hypothetical amplification of that effect by other factors, which are poorly understood.

¡°Contrary to media impressions,” Lindzen concluded, “agreement with the three basic statements tells us almost nothing relevant to policy discussions.¡±

Scientific truth, of course, is never determined by taking a vote. On the other hand, the truth about the existence of a scientific consensus is found in just this way. Purported near unanimity among scientists serves as a powerful argument for convincing the public. But Lindzen is by no means the only dissenter.

In fact, the scientific consensus is strongly opposed to the global warming scare. About 17,000 American scientists are signatories to a Petition that reads as follows:

“We urge the United States government to reject the global warming agreement that was written in Kyoto, Japan in December, 1997, and any other similar proposals. The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.

“There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.”

The names of the signatories are posted at www.oism.org/pproject. About two-thirds have advanced degrees; about 3000 are in fields especially qualified to evaluate information about atmospheric science and about 5000 in fields especially qualified to evaluate the effects of carbon dioxide on plant and animal life.

A statement by atmospheric scientists opposed to the Kyoto global warming treaty and the Leipzig Declaration on global climate change are posted at www.sepp.org. This web site provides in-depth analysis of international meetings and scientific reports on global warming and other environmental subjects. Students may wish to subscribe to the free online newsletter The Week That Was.

These petitions have attracted far less press coverage than those purported to support global climate change, even though the latter boast only 10% of the number of signatories. For additional details on these petitions, see Civil Defense Perspectives, May 1998, posted at www.oism.org/cdp/may98.html.

C. Is Global Warming Really a Religion?

A remarkable assertion was recently made by Halton Arp of the Max-Planck-Institut f¨¹r Astrophysik: “Science has become religion” (J Scientific Exploration 2000;14:447-454).

Arp’s concept of religion is something “based on myths and guesses,” a story that is “mandated by authority and then defended by educational, economic, and sociopolitical agendas.”

“The most harmful aspect of what science has become is the deliberate attempt to hide evidence that contradicts the current paradigm,” he writes. “Most scientists give ritual obeisance to the dictum that `one can never prove a theory, only disprove it.’ In a quite human fashion, however, they act in an exactly opposite manner©¤judging that `if an observation disagress with what we know to be correct, then it must be wrong’.”

Arp goes on to observe that “the tradition of `peer review’ of articles published in professional journals has degenerated into almost total censorship.” He believes that, as a result, “real investigative science is mostly now an underground activity.”

Arp notes that in the evolution vs. creationism argument, “as in most religious wars, they tried to ban the heretic beliefs.” Though he does not comment on the global warming debate, this is another area in which skeptics are treated like heretics: their views are anathematized rather than discussed.

Clearly, global warming is not an area in which prominent scientists have been adhering to the admonition: “Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good.”

In science, truth eventually triumphs over opinion polls and established dogma. But in 21st century America, it remains to be seen whether truth, even when allied with the weight of 17,000 individual scientists’ opinions, can overcome the efforts of the media and the vested political interests that are promoting the global climate-change scare.

You are now invited to go to the discussion board. To get you started, consider some of the following questions: 

  1. What does the evolution argument have in common with the global warming controversy?
  2. What should be the role of the intelligent layman in scientific discussions of this type?
  3. What are the key flaws that are glossed over in media accounts that you are reading?
  4. What are the unstated assumptions in media reports?
  5. Why are so many religious groups jumping on the global warming bandwagon?
  6. What are your children learning about global warming in school? How much do their teachers understand about the subject?