The Sun, the Oceans, and Other Small Details

The first duty of an educated man is to point out the obvious. — William Shakespeare

All Energy Comes from the Sun

In grade school, I was taught that, on Earth at least, “all energy comes from the sun.” The sun lifts the water that comes down from mountains to fill reservoirs for hydroelectric energy. It was assumed that coal and oil were storing up solar energy from past photosynthesis. This may not be true, but ultimately all the heavier elements, including the carbon and uranium that serve as fuel, are thought to have been made by nuclear fusion in some star, if not our sun.

The earth’s atmosphere has an enormous effect on how much solar heat is absorbed or reflected and how it is distributed. But the amount of incident energy, which depends on how hot the sun is and how far it is from earth, is obviously a key factor. One would think this would be very a important parameter in a global climate model─but that is not so with the IPCC model.

The energy from the sun is not a constant; the sun has climate also. There are cycles of about 200 years, and a superimposed cycle of about 11 years. The visible manifestation is the number of sunspots. Energy output and the solar magnetic field vary. The latter affects the number of cosmic rays striking the earth, which affects clouds among other things. (This would be a good time to review Figure 3 in the Robinson review article referenced in past lessons (see, which shows how closely terrestrial temperatures in North America have tracked solar magnetic cycle lengths.)

In the millennia preceding the Industrial Revolution, the earth experienced many climate upheavals, some occurring rather suddenly, perhaps over just a few decades. Conditions ranged from ice-free poles to extreme cold with massive continental ice sheets. A special issue of Science, April 27, 2001, devoted to “paleoclimatology,” attempts to explain such changes, while making the bald but politically correct assertion that “the importance of this task is underlined by the growing awareness of how profoundly human activity is affecting climate.”

For pre-Industrial Revolution times, between 40 and 60% of the change was attributed to solar variability and volcanoes (with the remainder due to other natural causes). During the extremely brief period of time that has elapsed since then, human factors allegedly make a “discernable” difference, according to the IPCC, though the total change has been very mild.

Human beings have not found any way to influence the sun, of course; the whole human “fingerprint” occurs by leveraging one factor called “greenhouse gases.” For perspective, human activities release about 5.5 gigatons or GT (1 GT = one billion tons) of CO2 annually, while the oceans contain 38,000 GT, the atmosphere 750 GT, and the biosphere 2000 GT.

While environmental extremists may raise the specter of drought like the Dust Bowl of the 1930s (1933-1938), one of the best documented agricultural and social disasters in the history of the United States, this was a relatively mild natural event, even in comparison with earlier droughts in the U.S. At times, entire empires have collapsed, their people reduced to low levels of subsistence, during droughts “extreme in their duration and intensity, far surpassing droughts recorded during the modern instrumental period.” Such droughts recurred every 200 years, in step with 200-year oscillations in solar activity.

Evidence of variations in sunspot numbers and solar brightness includes the abundance of cosmic ray-produced radioactive carbon-14 in tree rings. The chronology of the drought that may have caused the fall of the great Mayan civilization is reflected in the varying amounts of gypsum (CaSO4) deposited on the floor of Lake Chichancanab in central Yucatan. The bicentennial climate signal is also seen on the other side of the world in a stalagmite in a cave in Oman (Science 292:1293, 5/13/01).

The changes that created the Sahara Desert, driving inhabitants of that once lush region to areas around the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates Rivers (the cradle of civilization) may have resulted from a tiny wobble of the earth’s axis.

The Earth is a Water World

About 70% of the earth is covered with oceans, which have an enormous effect on climate that is not well understood. Climate models, for example, are poor at predicting the disruptions caused by the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Warm currents make the climate mild in some coastal regions; the thermohaline current (THC) in the North Atlantic serves as a “conveyor belt” to move tropical heat poleward. These currents result from differences in temperature and salinity within the ocean.

A sudden disruption of the THC is one prescription for disaster. This has occurred in the past; global warmers warn that human activity could provoke a similar change through increasing the influx of fresh water into the oceans. Skeptics point out that the models are very sensitive to inputs such as precipitation, evaporation, and river runoff, and that the warmers are “pushing on a string” to make their predictions. (See the July issue of Civil Defense Perspectives, referenced below.)

Water vapor in the atmosphere is the most important greenhouse gas. In addition, clouds have a very significant effect on the amount of solar radiation that reaches and escapes from the earth. Low, thick stratus clouds increase the earth’s albedo (i.e. they reflect sunlight back into space). High, thin cirrus clouds may act much like the iris of the eye in regulating the admission of light. Unlike thick clouds, thin clouds trap more heat at the surface. A 22% decrease in cirrus cloud cover leads to a decrease in sea surface temperature of about 1.1 degrees Centigrade. And when the sea surface temperature rises by that amount, the cirrus clouds decrease by about 22%. This self-regulation effect requires climate modelers to scale back the projected warming from a doubling of CO2 by as much as two-thirds. (See National Policy Analysis #336, May 2001, National Center for Policy Research, 777 N. Capitol St. NE Suite 803, Washington, DC 20002, (202) 371-1400, www.nationalcenter. org/NPA336.html, based on a report by Richard Lindzen et al, Bull Am Meterol Soc, March 2001.)

The Earth Moves

The dry land is not a constant either. The earth itself has been in upheaval due to plate tectonics. Major changes in continental geography, such as the uplift of mountain ranges, affect winds and precipitation. The location of oceanic gateways has a major effect on ocean currents. Examples of changes include the ­opening and widening of the two Antarctic gateways, and the closure of the Central American seaway. These triggered massive changes in the global climate system. Land use changes by humanity are trivial in comparison.


With the accumulation of instrumental data in recent years, and the development of proxy measures to investigate past climate, our understanding of climate is improving. The most important observations are the awesome complexity of the system, and the massive influence of natural factors over which mankind has no control.

If indeed a human influence can be tremendously amplified by these natural forces, there is all the more reason to refrain from acting like the Sorcerer’s apprentice, as in the Kyoto Treaty, which will be the subject of the next and final lesson.

For Further Information:

Global warming has been the subject of presentations by a number of our nation’s foremost scientists at the annual meetings of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness. These include Sallie Baliunas and Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory; Fred Singer of the Science and Environmental Policy Project; the late William Nierenberg of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography; and Arthur Robinson of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine.

All of the audiotapes-together with many image files of slides and written materials-from 1992-1999 are available on a CD-ROM with an Internet-style interface. Registrants for this course may obtain one for the special price of $10 by telephoning (520) 325-2689 or writing to DDP at 1601 N. Tucson Blvd. Suite 9, Tucson, AZ 85716. Additional copies may be obtained free of charge for those who wish to donate one to libraries or schools.

Individual audiotapes are available for $8 each; videos, $20. The 2000-2001 global warming audiotape set is available for $30. This includes one tape by Sallie Baliunas (“A Climate History of the Earth: the Last 1,000 Years”); two by Willie Soon (“The Sun Also Warms” and “Ascertaining Mankind’s CO2 Fingerprint: Why Is the Task So Difficult?”); two by Fred Singer (“Is Kyoto Dead?” and “Taking Heat: a Scientist Questions Kyoto”); and one by William Nierenberg (“Carbon Dioxide and Acid Rain”).

You will be added to our complimentary mailing list for the Doctors for Disaster Preparedness Newsletter and Civil Defense Perspectives, published bimonthly, on request. Back issues are available at and Of particular interest: “Sun, Oceans, and Other Details,” CDP July 2001; “Scientists Speak on Global Warming,” CDP May 2001; “The Mother of Global Lies,” CDP May 1998; “The Sun and Global Warming,” CDP Nov. 1999, p.2; “Global Warming ‘Discrepancies’,” DDP Newsletter Jan. 2000; “Temperature Charts: Truth and Consequences,” CDP Jan. 1998.

Questions to keep in mind:

  1. Do the media make an effort to keep the weather in historical perspective?
  2. Do studies on purported human-caused global warming mention any natural factors?
  3. Do press accounts ever warn of the danger of attempted interventions in a complex situation that is not well understood?
  4. Whatever happened to former ambitious attempts to change the weather as by cloud seeding?