Sunday, June 26, 2005

Global warming fracas

Recently, The New Yorker magazine published an alarmist three-part series on global warming by human agency, especially as a function of rising carbon dioxide levels. Predictably, the US government is castigated for not adhering to the Kyoto protocols, even though these exempt large third-world countries where CO2 emission levels are rising rapidly. Bill Moyers has intoned that there is universal agreement that global warming is caused by human agency. Senator John McCain, who clearly knows very little about the matter, has joined the bandwagon. Such is the conventional wisdom—but it is by no means the opinion of a majority of the world's climatologists.

Distrust of media is widespread. This extends even to the august New York Times, where one study indicated that only 22% of its own readers have confidence in what is written there. I belong to the 78%. One reason for skepticism is the sense that the mainstream media present material selectively to as to advance a particular point of view. It seems that the thesis of an approaching catastrophe through global warming by human agency is a case in point.

Empirical observations are much more mixed than the reports in the media would suggest. We often hear of this or that ice cap melting. It is rare, however, to encounter evidence to the contrary, as for example the finding that the Arctic was warmer during the late 1930s than today (Polyakov et al., 2002), or the information that the snowpack in Antarctica is actually thickening (Davis et al. 2005).

If the ice near the poles is melting overall, why don't we notice more flooding in coastal areas. To be sure, we are often told that this flooding is coming, but why don't we see it now? As a world traveler I have viewed many oceans, and have not seen this phenomenon even in an incipient form. It is true that Venice is sinking, but that has been a problem for decades, and is unrelated to the posited global waming. Why isn’t Ireland, for example, sinking?

The following paragraphs offer an edited version of an important report published in a British newspaper, The Telegraph.

Let us start with the sort of fare we usually encounter. The conventional wisdom seems to be demonstrated by the research of Dr. Naomi Oreskes, of the University of California, who analyzed almost 1,000 papers on the subject published since the early 1990s. She concluded that 75 per cent of them either explicitly or implicitly backed the consensus view, while none directly dissented from it. Not surprisingly, Oreskes' study now routinely figures in the writings of those demanding action on climate change.

Yet her unequivocal conclusions aroused suspicions among other academics, who knew of many papers that dissented from the pro-global warming line. The critics include Dr. Benny Peiser, of the science faculty at Liverpool John Moores University, who conducted his own analysis of the same set of 1,000 documents. He concluded that only one third backed the consensus view, while only one per cent did so explicitly.

Submitting his findings to the leading review Science in January, Dr. Peiser was at first asked to edit his paper for publication. But to no avail. He has now been told that his results have been rejected on the grounds that the points he made had been "widely dispersed on the internet." Yet Dr. Peiser insists that he has kept his findings strictly confidential. "It is simply not true that they have appeared elsewhere already," he stated.

A spokesman for Science said Peiser's research had been rejected "for a variety of reasons," adding: "the information in the letter was not perceived to be novel." Peiser rejected this assertion: "As the results from my analysis refuted the original claims, I believe Science has a duty to publish them." In addition, Peiser noted that the stifling of dissent and preoccupation with doomsday scenarios is bringing climate research into disrepute. "There is a fear that any doubt will be used by politicians to avoid action," he said. "But if political considerations dictate what gets published, it's all over for science."

Peiser is not the only academic to have had work turned down which challenges the findings of Oreskes' study. Professor Dennis Bray, of the GKSS National Research Centre in Geesthacht, Germany, submitted results from an international study showing that fewer than one in 10 climate scientists believed that climate change is principally caused by human activity. This is a very striking finding.

As with Dr Peiser's study, Science declined to publish his rebuttal. Professor Bray told The Telegraph: "They said it didn't fit with what they were intending to publish."
Professor Roy Spencer, at the University of Alabama, a leading authority on satellite measurements of global temperatures, told The Telegraph: "It's pretty clear that the editorial board of Science is more interested in promoting papers that are pro-global warming. It's the news value that is most important."

He said that after his own team produced research casting doubt on man-made global warming, they were no longer sent papers by Nature and Science for review, despite being acknowledged as world leaders in the field.

As a result, says Professor Spencer, flawed research is finding its way into the leading journals, while attempts to get rebuttals published fail. "Other scientists have had the same experience," he said. "The journals have a small set of reviewers who are pro-global warming."

It seems clear that a cover-up has been ongoing. Why is this? The larger context is that once an idea has become conventional wisdom it is hard to dislodge it. Moreover, human beings seem to have a natural appetite for disaster scenarios, for the Apocalyptic, in short. Evangelical Christians believe in the Rapture. Secularists hold that global warming is about to get us.

As a token of the absurd level we have attained, tourism to Alaska is now being promoted "before it melts."

More seriously, the whole range of these apocalyptic warnings has been reviewed in a masterful survey volume by Bjørn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World (Czmbridge University Press, 2001). It goes without saying that Dr. Lomborg, a Danish scientist, has been viciously attacked, but without effecting the overall soundness of his findings.


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