Subscriptions, Current Issue & Back Issues

Current Issue | Annual Subscriptions | Back Issues

Scientists aren’t sure what’s causing climate change

Did you know scientists aren’t sure what’s causing climate change? by M. J. Molyneaux, (MIPENZ), B.Sc. [Eng Mat]; B. Soc. Sc. Hons., M.A.[psychometry research]

While newspapers report a general consensus among scientific institutions that climate change in modern times is caused mainly by the combustion of fossil fuels and even major oil companies like Shell, BP and Chevron have agreed, it is quite remarkable to discover that climate scientists are not in general agreement about the causes. That’s because we don’t yet have any SCIENTIFIC theory to explain it – IN FACT, we only have groups of scientists arguing about what’s happening. The problem is not a shortage of research, it’s the scientific validity of the research and the analysis that’s still highly questionable. The evidence does not meet standard criteria of scientific investigation and proof so it’s premature to blame fossil fuels. Lists of internationally renown climatologists and meteorologists who dispute the “theories” of the Inter-government Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] are published on the internet, [see appendix to this article] but many of New Zealand’s politicians seem to ignore their statements.

If scientific research is to qualify as science rather than pseudo-science it must follow the strict principles of research methodology that have been defined, agreed and practiced for the past half century at least. This is not only to qualify and be taken seriously, but to get it right as well. Modern climate scientists are using complex detection & attribution studies that are mesmerizing other scientists and politicians all over the world but they are unconvincing in their predictions. That’s the main problem with the greenhouse gas models. The scientists are still guessing and hiding their guesswork behind these complex simulations and statistical procedures that few people really understand.

Although the climate simulations and statistical procedures are very complex it’s not too difficult for laymen to appreciate where the problem lies as far as scientific validity is concerned. The first step in any scientific study is to define and measure the key variables i.e. usually certain objectively quantifiable factors that we think may be causing the observed effect. Then we use intelligent guessing [which may be guided by laboratory experiments] to define the mathematical relationship between the causal factors and the effects – this mathematical relationship constitutes only a hypothesis i.e. a good guess. Thirdly we observe, collect data and compute the mathematics to test the theory. If the mathematics work out and produce the numbers we expected [even approximately] then we can start feeling we could be on the right track, that it is indeed a good guess. Once the mathematics have been demonstrated we still have a very important step to take. We have to test the theory and prove it works in real life – like a laboratory test or test flight. In many cases this is very difficult or costly but it must be done. Because if it turns out to be impossible to test, then all we can do is continue to speculate and believe that the theory is true – something like the way most psychiatrists and psychologists believed Freud’s “theory” of personality development until proper scientific investigation proved him wrong. Every new engineering design is first tested in practice in safe and controlled conditions before being approved for use. But the IPCC want us to go ahead with their speculations without any hard evidence that it works in our real world!!!!

Now this is where the problem lies as far as the cause of climate change is concerned. Scientists have not yet properly tested their claims of a human cause. The best test is to intentionally vary the factors that we think may be causing a particular change and observe the results. Thus realistic and credible testing of a causal link is achieved by singling out and measuring some factor that is obviously the direct result of human activity [e.g. the combustion of fossil fuels] and then intentionally making that factor decrease or increase significantly and finally testing the effects by looking for a correlation between the two sets of data [the measured causal factors and measured effects]. Unfortunately, intentional manipulation of the human factors or causes in the climate change scenario is unlikely to happen to satisfy the needs of researchers. The world’s population will not be easily persuaded to cut back significantly on energy use or fertilizer use for a few years just to see what the effects will be.

If we can’t intentionally vary the human factors that we claim are causing climate change the next best option is to see if the climate variations we observe and measure can be accurately predicted by our theory from the causal factors as they vary without intentional experimental manipulation – that’s also acceptable scientific proof. In other words we have to measure and track all the human factors and all other independent natural variables like solar radiation, lightning strikes, volcanic eruptions and plant growth or desertification over a period of time and then check whether the mathematical equations predict the changes in climate exactly as expected. Now this is where the problem occurs. The predictions of climate models and theories have not been good enough to prove the case. In fact the climate changes can be predicted [not too accurately but within a given range] with only certain NATURAL factors or the combined figures for natural and man-made contributions like total atmospheric greenhouse gas levels. But most importantly, when the human factors are independently added into another set of more complex mathematical equations the predictions are no better. That’s the problem the sceptical scientists are trying to point out and the media are not giving them much respect or credit.

Another example of this problematic predictive guesswork is the fact that since the start of the 21st century, the observed and officially computed global warming trend has paused while global production and combustion of fossil fuels continues to increase relentlessly. The expected correlation doesn’t appear. A big question mark should now be hanging over the validity of the main thesis – that fossil fuel combustion is causing most of global warming. Instead the British Met Office reported in June that in the last few years global warming has been offset [or counteracted] by natural weather variation – a rather curious statement. They are referring to this recent unexplained pause in global warming in the past seven to eight years. Climate scientists with their complex statistics failed to predict this pause and the explanation by the British Met Office is indeed curious – in essence they are saying the recent global weather pattern [global warming on pause] is caused by the recent variable weather pattern [natural weather variation]. What they are in effect saying [in summary] is that the weather is caused by the weather !!! That’s gibberish, not science. Has anybody woken up to this yet?

Ecological systems [sources and sinks for greenhouse gases] have not yet been accurately analysed and independently measured over a long period like the human factors, so ecologists can only estimate and guess at those numbers. As a result, the mass balance accounting in the mathematical models for climate and ecological systems are nowhere near good enough to discriminate between all the natural and man-made sources and sinks for greenhouse gases. Some respected climate scientists say it’s possible that one or more human factors or activities may be contributing to climate change, but the exact type of activities are not yet clearly identified, independently measured and demonstrated in the statistics or graphs published to date. Either the climate scientists don’t have the required details to publish or they are hiding their figures from the public. The former situation seems more likely.

The main reason for targeting fossil fuel combustion as chief culprit and for proposing taxes in this area is that this commodity is very well accounted for and taxed for government revenues. We have all these energy facts and figures and already gather taxes from this commodity, so it’s easy enough to simply increase the tax rate. Furthermore, as crude oil prices and retail fuel prices increase, the corresponding tax income increases too.

APPENDIX

According to reputable climatologists such as Prof Roger Pielke, University of Colorado, the studies published to date have not yet established the cause of climate change according to proper standards of scientific investigation. He says ” the human contribution itself has not been quantitatively assessed, yet the experts, using their judgment, expect it to be there. In plain English this is what is called a ‘hypothesis’ and not a ‘conclusion.’ And it is a fair representation of the issue.” Other internationally renown climate scientists agree. Dr Chris Landsea caused a stir in 2005 when he resigned from the Inter-government Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] claiming that the lead author of the IPCC scientific chapter that he was contributing to had made unfounded statements. He wrote about the IPCC process in his resignation letter “as both being motivated by pre-conceived agendas and being scientifically unsound”

Dr William Gray, one of the world’s foremost meteorologists and a pioneer in the science of seasonal hurricane forecasts says humans are not responsible for the warming of the earth. He calls these theories “ridiculous” and warns that “We’re brainwashing our children.” Dr Gray, 78, a long-time professor at Colorado State University argues that a natural cycle of ocean water temperatures – related to the amount of salt in ocean water – was responsible for the global warming that he acknowledges has taken place. “It bothers me that my fellow scientists are not speaking out against something they know is wrong,” he said. “But they also know that they’d never get any grants if they spoke out. I don’t care about grants.”

Other prominent scientists including Prof Reid Bryson, emeritus professor of Meteorology at the University of Wisconsin, Philip Stott, emeritus professor of biogeography at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and Claude Allegre, one of France’s most celebrated scientists claim the evidence of a human causal factor is not yet convincing. They say the system is too complex to know exactly what the effect of cutting back on CO2 production would be or indeed of continuing to produce CO2.

A petition is being promoted by Frederick Seitz, Past President of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A., and signed by over 20 000 scientists who dispute the theories that blame human activities for the observed warming trend.

Ecologists point out that the atmosphere is an open CO2 supporting system and that hundreds of natural ecological processes either absorb or release CO2 in cooperating or competing processes. The total quantity of CO2 stored in the oceans, the soil, lakes, estuaries and swamps of the earth exceeds the amount stored in the atmosphere. So, for example, if atmospheric CO2 levels increase and precipitation rates increase due to smoke and ash released into the atmosphere this would cause plants to flourish and the resulting increase in plant mass on the planet would absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere than before. Also increased precipitation and flooding means more ground water that absorbs more CO2 from the atmosphere. So in theory the natural forces will act to restore the balance and maintain the temperature equilibrium of the planet as the past several years seem to indicate.

The potential role of compost in reducing greenhouse gases is explained by Enzo Favoino and Dominic Hogg in a recent special issue of Waste Management & Research – small changes in the chemistry and biology of the planet’s water systems or soils due to the use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides, industrial or mining wastes, or waste waters from all our cities affect greenhouse gas levels in the soil, atmosphere and oceans. The effects could be quite significant if populations of micro- and macro-organisms in swamps, lakes and the sea were to decline or grow either absorbing or releasing CO2 as a result. The decline or growth of these imbalanced populations and the decay of dead bacteria and flora are difficult if not impossible to measure at the level of accuracy required to test the greenhouse gas theories. In an alarming report, the United Nations Environment Programme acknowledges these threats to the earth’s ecosystems. According to a new report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent – 18 percent – than transport. It is also a major source of land and water degradation. Peter Saunders, Professor of Applied Mathematics at King’s College, London has been working in biology for over 30 years. He recently cautioned the European parliament about the devastating role of industrial agriculture. The flaw in the climate change scenario is that the human causal factors – fossil fuels, deforestation, animal farming, fertilizers, pesticides and land usage – have not all been accurately measured as independent factors in their own right and correlated with global temperatures, storms and precipitation rates. Instead the scientists correlate climate change with all the natural factors such as total atmospheric greenhouse gas levels, sun radiation levels, volcanic eruptions and water vapor and ozone distributions. They then postulate or intelligently guess at how human activities like fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, animal farming and land usage could affect the natural factors and in turn the climate. This is not to suggest that the human factors don’t often work in the direction scientists claim they work, the big question is exactly how big or significant are these effects. For example, in theory we can slow down the speed of the earth’s rotation by building high-rise buildings. There’s a simple set of mathematical equations to prove this, but the effect is infinitesimally small, too small to be even tested in practice.

As it turns out, certain key variables [I.e. objectively quantifiable data specifically relating to human activities] are missing from the climate models. I requested Dr David Wratt [who represents NZ at the IPCC] and Dr Jim Renwick from NIWA to point me to any research that publishes the key variables in this debate. They pointed me to many different research papers but nowhere could I find the key variables measured and factored into the climate models as independent variables. I pointed that out to these scientists but they still could not supply the requested data. No fault of theirs, but they should admit the missing evidence.

A review of many of the latest publications on this subject indicates that climate scientists are still guessing. Unfortunately, other scientists and engineers are either too busy with their own professions and affairs to take the time and trouble to investigate the matter in sufficient depth, or they are not sufficiently trained in research methodology to know what to look for and how to evaluate the merits of the large number of published studies. There are serious flaws in some of the ad hoc and poorly substantiated answers that climate scientists give to their critics when interviewed at public meetings or on TV.

Comments are closed.