Friday, November 2, 2007

Scientists Speak Up...

It appears that the IPCC doesn't have quite the consensus of climatologists that the anthropomorphic global warming faithful would have us believe. John R. Christy is director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and a participant in the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC was co-recipient of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, along with Al Gore (aka “The Goracle”). In a Wall Street Journal ($) editorial yesterday, Mr. Christy said:

I'm sure the majority (but not all) of my IPCC colleagues cringe when I say this, but I see neither the developing catastrophe nor the smoking gun proving that human activity is to blame for most of the warming we see. Rather, I see a reliance on climate models (useful but never "proof") and the coincidence that changes in carbon dioxide and global temperatures have loose similarity over time.

There are some of us who remain so humbled by the task of measuring and understanding the extraordinarily complex climate system that we are skeptical of our ability to know what it is doing and why. As we build climate data sets from scratch and look into the guts of the climate system, however, we don't find the alarmist theory matching observations. (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite data we analyze at the University of Alabama in Huntsville does show modest warming -- around 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit per century, if current warming trends of 0.25 degrees per decade continue.)

It is my turn to cringe when I hear overstated-confidence from those who describe the projected evolution of global weather patterns over the next 100 years, especially when I consider how difficult it is to accurately predict that system's behavior over the next five days.

Mother Nature simply operates at a level of complexity that is, at this point, beyond the mastery of mere mortals (such as scientists) and the tools available to us. As my high-school physics teacher admonished us in those we-shall-conquer-the-world-with-a-slide-rule days, "Begin all of your scientific pronouncements with 'At our present level of ignorance, we think we know . . .'"

I haven't seen that type of climate humility lately. Rather I see jump-to-conclusions advocates and, unfortunately, some scientists who see in every weather anomaly the specter of a global-warming apocalypse. Explaining each successive phenomenon as a result of human action gives them comfort and an easy answer.

Others of us scratch our heads and try to understand the real causes behind what we see. We discount the possibility that everything is caused by human actions, because everything we've seen the climate do has happened before. Sea levels rise and fall continually. The Arctic ice cap has shrunk before. One millennium there are hippos swimming in the Thames, and a geological blink later there is an ice bridge linking Asia and North America.

Unlike Jim Hansen (the proselytizer-in-chief of the anthropomorphic global warming movement), John Christy actually sounds like a scientist – looking for actual evidence and understanding, as opposed to grant funding. The Wall Street Journal is not the preferred venue for scientists, but my guess would be that John Christy had difficulty finding any of the usual venues who would publish anything with his perspective, despite his impeccable credentials.

Mr. Christy starts his editorial by rejecting his “share” of the Nobel Peace Prize, and poking at Al Gore:

I've had a lot of fun recently with my tiny (and unofficial) slice of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But, though I was one of thousands of IPCC participants, I don't think I will add "0.0001 Nobel Laureate" to my resume.

The other half of the prize was awarded to former Vice President Al Gore, whose carbon footprint would stomp my neighborhood flat. But that's another story.

It's well worth reading the whole thing, if you're a WSJ subscriber. If you're not a WSJ subscriber, it's also possible that the WSJ will release this editorial for free viewing at (they usually do this within a week of the original editorial's publication), or you can hope that Rupert Murdoch will change the model of the WSJ site from subscription to free (something he's openly discussed as a possibility).

John Christy is not the first well-known climatologist to speak skeptically about the anthropomorphic global warming
(AGW) movement, not by a long shot. But, to my knowledge, he is the first member of the IPCC to have done so, at least in a public venue. Given the political power of the AGW movement, one must admire the courage of Mr. Christy – his willingness to speak skeptically about AGW may well have consequences to his career…

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