[Illustrations, footnotes and references available in PDF version]
In March 2007 the UK’s Channel 4 broadcast a biting documentary, The Great Global Warming Swindle. It debunked most of the major arguments of Al Gore’s Oscar-winning video, An Inconvenient Truth.
The Chinese word for crisis is a combination of the two ideograms Wei, which means "danger" and Ji, which means "opportunity."
In the past several months, a new "crisis" has heated up the controversy over man-made global warming.
A few major-media writers and TV personalities are actually reporting statements by credible scientists who are challenging the assumption that carbon dioxide is the primary force causing global warming.
There’s a real possibility that big-name journalists will break ranks and pursue their next Pulitzer Prize by exposing the lack of scientific consensus on CO2 as a planet-heating pollutant.
That would create a crisis of confidence among the activists, researchers and global-governance apparatchiks who want a global carbon tax to build their political and financial power base.
As an agricultural journalist, I find this a fascinating new development in the climate controversy. I’ve studied weather and climate for more than 50 years. In the early 1970s, I wrote a short book, Tomorrow’s Wild Weather, which warned what could happen if there was a long-term continuation of the cooling trends in the mid-latitudes since the 1930s.
As climatologist Reid Bryson advised me at the time, a cooler climate in temperate zones would have been serious for world agriculture: Westerly winds would intensify, making U.S. weather more extreme. Africa’s Sahel desert would expand much farther southward, spreading famine across northern Africa. The data looked ominous: Average temperature in the 48 U.S. states had fallen by more than six-tenths of a degree Celsius since 1930.
This cooling attracted widespread press coverage and even some political pressure-to reduce "aerosols" or fine particles of pollutants which must be making our atmosphere more opaque. But the "New Ice Age" scare faded as more refined data emerged and the longer-term, slow recovery from the Little Ice Age resumed.
I’ve continued to follow the climate controversy, especially since the 1997 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Since that conference, billions of dollars in government funding have generated floods of research data, a myriad of computer models, political posturing and the Kyoto Protocol.
The New Data
Most of that data is freely available to scientists and others on the Internet. Using it, hundreds of highly qualified climatologists and other scientists outside the fraternal network of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have challenged climate prediction models and other assumptions of the IPCC’s reports. While there’s consensus that climates change over time, climatologists are sharply divided over the interactions of the many potential causes. As research emerges, CO2 as a primary warming force becomes harder to defend with hard data.
These challenges are starting to fracture the UN’s pretext for global governance over carbon emissions-including imposition of carbon taxes and "carbon credit" trading supervised by UN agencies. Giving the UN a legal right to impose a carbon tax- "cap and trade" in UNspeak-would provide an income stream to UN agencies which would greatly increase political power of UN bureaucracies. And their track record with large amounts of money, such as the Iraqi Oil for Food program, is not encouraging.
However, if the scientific case for CO2 as a primary climate pollutant crumbles, so could a global carbon tax.
Individual climatologists have disputed conclusions of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change even before the first IPCC Assessment Report in 1990. The IPCC has issued a series of reports, each focusing on CO2 as the primary "greenhouse gas" causing the continuing warming recovery since the Little Ice Age.
One of the first organized scientific counterattacks sounded on April 6, 2006. Sixty accredited experts in climate and related scientific disciplines signed a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, urging that billions of Canadian tax dollars appropriated to implement the Kyoto Protocol on climate change "will be squandered without a proper assessment of recent developments in climate science."
They wrote that if today’s extensive climate knowledge and measuring capabilities had existed in the mid-1990s, the Kyoto treaty "would almost certainly not exist, because we would have concluded it was not necessary."
That scientific challenge received little prime-time media attention. The Canadian government’s administration and legislature mostly ignored it.
Film Exposes Gore’s Deceptions
Then, in March 2007, the UK’s Channel 4 broadcast a biting documentary, The Great Global Warming Swindle. It debunked most of the major arguments of Al Gore’s Oscar-winning video, An Inconvenient Truth. For example, the Antarctic ice core data dramatized in Gore’s show actually reveal that increases in CO2 have generally followed increases in temperature. The lag is typically on the order of 800 years.
The Swindle documentary roused furor and scorn among carbon-as-cause believers, who attacked Channel 4 as offering a "great propaganda gift" to "climate-change deniers." But the credibility and rationale of scientific sources on the documentary endured the attacks. No factual challenges were forthcoming against the scientists’ arguments.
The controversy over this TV show, the first journalistic challenge against CO2 as primary world thermostat, may have encouraged others in the scientific community to point out that despite roughly $50 billion for climate-change research over several decades, the case against carbon dioxide faces more uncertainty as the evidence grows, not less.
One such challenge comes from Dr. Bob Carter, Research Professor at James Cook University and paleoclimate analyst with more than 30 years’ experience, including 95 research papers.
In an Accuracy in Media guest column in April 2007, Carter emphasized: "The evidence for dangerous global warming forced by human carbon dioxide emissions is extremely weak. That the satellite temperature record shows no substantial warming since 1978, and that even the ground-based thermometer statistic records no warming since 1998, indicates that a key line of circumstantial evidence for human-caused change-the parallel rise in the late 20th century of both atmospheric carbon dioxide and surface temperatures-is now negated."
This challenge and others from eminent scientists roused the carbon theorists to their ramparts. On the website www.realclimate.org, Gavin Scmidt and Stefan Rahmstorf presented a 1980-2006 chart of global temperature showing that the trend of deviation from "normal" in that 26-year period remains up. But they made no attempt to explain why shorter-term deviations vary more widely than the longer-term anomaly, which puts the globe at about 0.4 degrees Celsius above its long-term "normal" using the GISTEMP Land-Ocean Index computed by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
Throughout 2007, hundreds of highly qualified climate scientists individually challenged the presumption that global regulators can, and must, manage the world’s thermostat by curbing 50% – and possible eventually 100%-of man-made carbon dioxide emissions.
The most lively media arena for the CO2 emissions controversy the past two years has been, by far, among Internet websites and blogs. The Science and Public Policy Institute (http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org) offers a wide-ranging forum on the science of climate change.
Websites like the SPPI bypass major-media gatekeepers and the UN organizers, who carefully monitor any non-governmental organization wishing to attend an IPCC climate conference. Example: At the November 2000 Conference of the Parties (COP6) climate parley in the Hague, Netherlands, the only non-governmental organization to oppose the Kyoto Protocol was Sovereignty International (www.sovereignty.net).
The websites provide newspaper, radio and TV reporters a rich diversity of data and analysis on the issue. Usually, any posted article contains an opportunity for immediate rebuttal. These websites may embolden scientists to speak out more frequently in a forum unconstrained by peer review.
The volume of new climate data is accelerating, which means that media-amplified claims like the linkage between climate warming and hurricanes can be challenged more quickly. For instance, the SPPI site points out 35 factual errors in Al Gore’s documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth."
On Dec. 20 2007, the biggest-yet assembly of scientists challenging the Kyoto pretext of CO2-as-villain was posted by Marc Morano on the minority page of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. This extensive digging by Sen. James Inhofe’s staff summarized comments from over 400 prominent scientists who disputed some aspect of man-made global warming in 2007. These scientists’ observations fill some 120 pages when printed out from the website. But they hardly made a ripple on prime-time TV news.
This Senate site says, in part: "Over 400 prominent scientists from more than two dozen countries recently voiced significant objections to major aspects of the so-called "consensus" on man-made global warming. These scientists, many of whom are current and former participants in the UN IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), criticized the climate claims made by the UN IPCC and former Vice President Al Gore."
Sen. Inhofe’s staff observes, "Even some in the establishment media now appear to be taking notice of the growing number of skeptical scientists. In October, Washington Post Staff Writer Juliet Eilperin conceded the obvious, writing that climate skeptics "appear to be expanding rather than shrinking."
A Contrary View
But on the first day of 2008, a very significant contrarian voice emerged in an astonishing place: The New York Times.
Science writer John Tierney’s editorial slashed deep:
"Today’s interpreters of the weather are what social scientists call availability entrepreneurs: the activists, journalists and publicity-savvy scientists who selectively monitor the globe looking for newsworthy evidence of a new form of sinfulness, burning fossil fuels."
As a long-time journalist myself, I saw a larger significance in Tierney’s op-ed piece, which point out that when it comes to covering climate change, only politically-correct news avoids the spike.
Here’s that significance which my journalistic instinct perceives: Tierney’s courageous analysis implies that the command center of CO2 orthodoxy, the New York Times itself, will allow any journalist to reveal the rips in the CO2 emperor’s clothes.
The Pulitzer Prize of 2010 just might go to the contrarian newsperson who challenges climate scientists and carbon-tax advocates with questions like these:
1. Why don’t advocates of restricting and burying CO2 ever mention opportunities of longer growing seasons and higher CO2 availability for crops?
Agronomic research shows that doubling atmospheric CO2 levels to about 700 parts per million raises corn and soybean yields 20% to 40%. We see more opportunity in using CO2 for higher crop yields than in burying it under the sea floor. Greenhouses commonly enrich their atmospheres with carbon dioxide.
Historically, advances in civilizations have accompanied warmer, wetter epochs in climate cycles. Dr. Raymond H. Wheeler and hundreds of research assistants documented this with a lifetime of analysis beginning in the 1930s. If the climate follows Wheeler’s cyclical pattern, we may well be entering a warmer, wetter epoch which will benefit agriculture.
Two decades ago I had many visits with physicist Iben Browning, a climate researcher and author of many works including Climate and the Affairs of Men, written with Nels Winkless III and published in 1975. Browning documented that past climate change has impacted humanity in massive ways, such as the barbarian invasion of China and the Phoenician presence in Stonehenge Britain.
He reminded readers in his 1975 book that the climate since 1925 had been unusually mild and beneficial; that a cooling could occur anytime.
And Browning told me that as he refined his computer models of climate change, "We get our best correlation with measured climate data when we ignore the presence of man and his use of carbon-emitting fuels."
2. Why is the IPCC’s projected future global warming almost linear or accelerating, when it’s well-known that the greenhouse-gas impact of CO2 fades sharply with each incremental increase of CO2 in the atmosphere?
Some background: The trendline level of CO2 in the air measured at Mona Loa, Hawaii, was 385 parts per million (ppm) in January 2008. When observations began at Mona Loa in 1958, the level was 315 parts per million.
Since 1990, annual increases of CO2 have ranged from 0.5 to 2.6 ppm. At a trendline rise of about 1.8 ppm per year, it will take 35 years to increase atmospheric CO2 to 450 ppm. CO2-control advocates claim this high a level has never occurred in 650,000 years, and would force devastating global warming.
However, the dominant "greenhouse effect" comes from water vapor in the atmosphere. CO2 causes only 3% of infrared heat blocking, and the physics of CO2 are such that the greenhouse effect of each added increment of CO2 shrinks on a logarithmic scale.
An analogy: If one layer of insulation in your ceiling traps half of the roof’s energy loss, adding an identical second layer traps only half the loss escaping the first layer. Each added increment of CO2 in the atmosphere has a logarithmically diminishing greenhouse effect.
Although physicists proved this years ago, you won’t see it in the dramatic graphs of Al Gore’s slide show, An Inconvenient Truth. It projects a nearly parabolic soaring of global temperature from a linear rise in CO2.
Advocates of man-caused global warming defend their case by saying that although CO2 itself has only a 3% role, it amplifies warming by various feedback mechanisms.
"This is a hypothesis, not a proven fact," counters Dr. John Christy, Director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Other scientists argue that current climate models underestimate the cooling influence of cloud cover.
3. Over long epochs revealed in ice cores, why have CO2 uptrends often followed new cyclical temperature uptrends, rather than leading them?
Temperature and CO2 cycles deciphered from Antarctic ice cores reveal that new temperature uptrends in CO2 levels have typically followed new temperature uptrends by 600 to 1,200 years. If that has been the case historically, it’s hard to claim that CO2 caused those temperature uptrends to begin.
One of the most dramatic screens in Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, shows a chart where temperature and CO2 levels wriggle through thousands of years in apparent synch with each other.
Flashed on a wide screen for moments, the long series of cycles appear tightly coupled. Audiences gasp. Gore declares that to deny this linkage is the "silliest thing I’ve ever heard."
But the statistical correlations of these measurements derived from ice cores are highest when temperature data is mathematically lagged about 800 years after CO2 data. This indicates that temperatures rise first, and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere follows.
If you look closely at a section of Gore’s chart, you can see in the red and white lines that the new temperature uptrends (white line on the bottom) begin many years before a new uptrend in carbon dioxide (red line).
This relationship makes sense. Warming oceans release CO2. It takes decades for the world’s oceans to warm after a long cooling cycle. University of Colorado research indicates that as Earth started to warm after the most recent Ice Age, the oceans have released some 600 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere as CO2.
Also, why do ancient climate records extracted from ice cores show global cooling cycles in the wake of CO2 increases? Some scientists argue that the world’s vegetation increased, locking CO2 into "carbon sinks." That simply helps make my agriculturist case that a world richer in CO2 could be a greener world.
Even in recent years, climate variations have occurred over decades, despite a steady rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Radiosonde data revealed wide annual temperature swings in the troposphere, including drops of 0.8 degree below average after 1930. In the mid-1970s, I was writing newsletters for farmers when this "global cooling" fanned media stories of coming climate disaster. Our farm news and advisory organization, Professional Farmers of America, held "World Food Crisis" conferences to study how global agriculture might cope with a potential worldwide cooling.
Today, global-warming activists shrug off the fact that during the 1930-80 cooling in North America, CO2 was probably rising at 1 to 2 parts per million annually – close to the annual rate it is rising today.
In fact, the long glacial cycles suggest we’re coming due for a cooling. Tim Patterson, director of the Ottawa-Carleton Geoscience Centre, says: "It is global cooling, not warming, which is the major climate threat to the world." The dip in lower-latitude temperatures in the past few years might be an early clue to such a cooling. I anticipate that if it does occur, Kyoto Protocol enthusiasts will claim credit for rescuing the planet.
4. Are we farming in a relatively CO2-deprived epoch? The plant kingdom metabolizes carbon dioxide and exhales oxygen. The animal kingdom metabolizes oxygen and exhales carbon dioxide. Nice design.
Some climatologists claim that the current 385 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere is "unprecedented" in 650,000 years of proxy data from Antarctic ice cores. But other scientists say those estimates from isotopes underestimate the amplitude of CO2 variation. Still other research, such as fossil analysis, indicate that the atmosphere has exceeded 2,000 ppm of CO2 repeatedly over the past 300 million years, fueling abundant plant growth resulting in today’s strata of carbon stored as coal.
Crops grown in air with enriched CO2 content make more efficient use of water and nutrients. Growing up on a farm, I’ve seen how young crops surge with fresh vigor after cultivation stirs the soil under a crop canopy. Mixing oxygen into the soil triggers a burst of underground biological activity. That causes a faster release of CO2, which is quickly metabolized by the fast-growing crop.
5. How can CO2 "coupling" explain global temperature drops in 1965-77, and a sharp rise after that? I assembled the accompanying global temperature chart covering 1946-2007 using data from Britain’s Met Office Hadley Center, with special help from an astute researcher, Holly Titchner.
The chart includes monthly smoothed data from ground stations back to 1945. It includes weather balloon data, which became reliable enough to include starting in 1958. Beginning in late 1978, it shows data from satellites. This is one of the most comprehensive estimates of long-term global temperature I could find.
A straight linear trend of global surface and troposphere temperature would show a rise of about 0.6 degree Celsius during 1945-2007. However, Britain’s Hadley Center researcher Peter Thorne and six colleagues cautioned in a 2005 Journal of Geophysical Research paper "This linear trend agreement is misleading. Almost all of the tropospheric warming is the result of a step-like change in the mid to late 1970s which has been ascribed to a ‘regime shift,’ particularly in the tropics."
I asked the Hadley Center to describe "regime shift."
Manager David Parker replied: "The regime change around 1976 was probably connected with changes of atmospheric and oceanic circulation and heat transports in the Pacific. These changes are somewhat similar to those experienced with El Nino and La Nina but are less focused on the equator and occur on time-scales of several decades. There was a warming regime-change in the 1920s and a cooling regime-change in the 1940s. There may have been a cooling regime-change in the late 1990s, partly obscured by global warming."
This quote from Parker, a participant in the IPCC, emphasizes the complexity facing researchers who write computer models of global climate change. I translate it as: "There’s an awful lot we don’t know about climate change."
Let’s look at some of the promises and pitfalls of climate models, which are the primary basis for carbon taxes and the CO2 theory of climatic forcing.
6. What justifies such extreme confidence in long-term computer models of projected climate?
One poster-child controversy is the "Hockey Stick" computer model of past and future climate, developed primarily by Michael Mann, Associate Professor in Pennsylvania State University’s Department of Meteorology.
His team used a statistical technique called "principal component analysis" (PCA) to simplify the large array of variables.
Mann’s model result was published by the IPCC as proof of unprecedented, man-made global warming. The model flattens the temperature changes of the well-documented Medieval Warming and Little Ice Age. The model generates a dramatic uptrend in recent years, then a parabolic rise in global temperatures over the next few decades.
Several statistical experts have declared Mann’s study invalid, and went on to point out the "peer review" involved was primarily among Mann’s mutually supportive colleagues.
Mann and fellow researchers still use the same statistical approach, and the hockey-stick formation remains in IPCC-published charts as evidence for man-caused world warming.
A friend of mine who teaches graduate-level statistics uses Mann’s climate model as an example of how not to apply principle component analysis. As used in the climate model, "it will generate a hockey-stick projection 99% of the time when applied to purely random data over time," says my friend.
This misuse of statistics was verified by Canadian researchers Steven McIntyre and Ross McKitrick, who offer a rich array of other evidence at this web address:
Also, see Steven McIntyre’s website at:
Incidentally, my college-professor friend asked to remain anonymous, saying: "If I became branded on this campus as opposing man-made global warming, I’m afraid it would be used against me-to deny tenure."
Another long-time skeptic of the UN’s global climate models is Dr. Reid Bryson, who at age 87 still works daily on his own, unpaid, at the Center for Climatic Research, University of Wisconsin.
His sixth book is just off the press. It’s written to help researchers build models of regional climate history. Colleagues often cite him as the "father of scientific climatology." Our acquaintance with his work goes back 30 years, when his book Climates of Hunger alerted us to the Northern Hemisphere cooling episodes leading into the 1970s. At the time, Bryson’s book expressed a hope that this cooling might reverse, which would rescue agriculture from disasters like those during the Little Ice Age.
Fortunately, Northern Hemisphere temperatures did rise again, during and after the 1970s. But Bryson reasons that the upturn was caused by natural cycles such as varying transparency of the earth’s atmosphere, not by CO2 from hydrocarbon fuels.
He sticks with a conclusion of his 1977 book: "We can’t expect to control the forces that affect climate."
Bryson points out that most computer simulations of climate are designed like short-term weather models. He says: "Impossible. You cannot do that."
The reason: Interactions of our planetary circulation and solar system are unknown, complex, unpredictable – and interwoven with feedback. Wrong assumptions propagate with each computer-simulated cycle of global circulation. After a few iterations, "you’re down to zero accuracy," says Bryson. "Who even believes a 10-day forecast?"
But the weather-model approach to general-circulation climate models persists because many of today’s climatologists were trained as meteorologists. These models have generally predicted more warming than has actually occurred, says Bryson.
For more than 60 years, Bryson and a wide array of colleagues searched for causes of climate change. They found signals in Earth’s orbital changes and the slight wobble on its rotational axis. They studied a natural influence largely ignored by other climatologists: variations in transparency of Earth’s atmosphere, caused primarily by sulfur dioxide and other aerosols emitted by volcanic activity. The transparency data correlate with Earth’s temperature variations in the past 100 years.
7. What is the real, long-term cost in lost production and human well-being worldwide from distorting energy markets and creating global mandates against hydrocarbon fuels?
In the summer of 2007, I cited an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chart showing that their lowest-cost projection of stabilizing atmospheric CO2 at 450 parts per million would be $350 trillion in 1990 dollars. That chart came from the IPPC’s Climate Change 2001 : Synthesis Report, Figure 7-3. When I asked the IPPC for a current verification, their message to me on Jan. 18, 2008 pointed out that the data had been "corrected."
The original chart, which had apparently been on the IPPC website since 2001, was mistakenly high by a factor of 100. The lowest-cost assumption for achieving stability at 450 ppm was now corrected, six years later, to just over $3.5 trillion in 1990 U.S. dollars. The highest estimate now is about $17 trillion, or almost 500% higher than the lowest estimate. Here’s the current IPCC chart, also available at http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/climate-changes-2001/correctionfig73.pdf
Yet there are presumptions that the U.S. can cut its use of CO2-emitting fuels by 80% for only a slight reduction in gross national product over the next several decades. It’s doubtful that China and India will do likewise.
One certainty about this "crisis:" It’s the scientific debate of the century. It’s far from being scientifically resolved, even though world policymakers will persist in making far-reaching energy-rationing rules based on unproven theories.
Threat to Freedom
Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, says that using global warming hysteria to justify global governance and energy-taxing schemes is today’s biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity. It has, he says, "become a prime example of the truth versus propaganda problem."
If policymakers plow ahead with capturing carbon, I’d like to see them place much more emphasis on how agriculture and all of humanity can benefit by converting CO2 into food and building humus. This is a beneficial and stable carbon reserve in the soil. It’s a waste to simply bury carbon.
Carbon is the cornerstone of biological life, and the "carbon is pollution" presumption leads toward bizarre proposals like pumping CO2 deep underground. In fact, a recent scientific proclamation claims that reducing CO2 emissions to zero would not stabilize climate change. The scientist says it will be necessary to extract CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester it.
If the regulators do enforce carbon sequestration, they might review how ancient tribes in South America’s tropics applied one of the most simple and beneficial ways to convert carbon stored in tropical forests into greater food production.
Using earthen firepits to create charcoal from jungle trees and undergrowth, they mixed raw charcoal into their tropical soils. This "biochar" provided microscopic niches for microbes and fungi, touching off a bloom of soil biological life which supported food crops for centuries. This "Terra Preta" or "dark soil" has been rediscovered by ecologists in the past couple of decades. Terra Preta soils remain productive despite the heat and moisture of the tropics, which otherwise oxidize organic matter and leach away crop nutrients from tropical clay and sand.
The low-tech building of biochar almost vanished after 1491, when European diseases arrived in South America and killed most of the indigenous population.
Helping people adapt to inevitable, natural climate change, in ecologically sound ways, would be much more productive and beneficial to humanity than building a global-governance bureaucracy financed by taxing hydrocarbon energy and run by top-down regulations.
Jerry Carlson, Pro Farmer Editor Emeritus, holds a Master’s degree in journalism from Iowa State University. After starting a journalism career as an Air Force officer, he became Managing Editor of Farm Journal magazine in Philadelphia. In 1972 he and a colleague, Merrill Oster, founded Professional Farmers of America, a national news and advisory service for leading farmers and ranchers. Jerry started several newsletters and Internet services within this company. He retired from Pro Farmer in 2001, but remains active in writing about farmland investments and restoring biological health in America’s cropland. Jerry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org