In Science, Ignorance is not Bliss

NASA Astronaut and Physicist, Walter Cunninghamby Walter Cunningham

NASA has played a key role in one of the greatest periods of scientific progress in history. It is uniquely positioned to collect the most comprehensive data on our biosphere.

For example, recently generated NASA data enabled scientists to finally understand the Gulf Stream warming mechanism and its effect on European weather. Such data will allow us to improve our models, resulting in better seasonal forecasts.

NASA’s Aqua satellite is showing that water vapor, the dominant greenhouse gas, works to offset the effect of carbon dioxide (CO2). This information, contrary to the assumption used in all the warming models, is ignored by global warming alarmists.

Climate understanding and critical decision making require comprehensive data about our planet’s land, sea, and atmosphere. Without an adequate satellite system to provide such data, policy efforts and monitoring international environmental agreements are doomed to failure. Our satellite monitoring capability is being crippled by interagency wrangling and federal budget issues. As much as a third of our satellites need replacing in the next couple of years.
NASA should be at the forefront in the collection of scientific evidence and debunking the current hysteria over human-caused, or Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). Unfortunately, it is becoming just another agency caught up in the politics of global warming, or worse, politicized science. Advocacy is replacing objective evaluation of data, while scientific data is being ignored in favor of emotions and politics.

There are excellent correlations between the regular fluctuations of the Sun and the Earth’s temperature, while scientists cannot find a relationship between industrial activity, energy consumption, and global temperatures. But global warming is an issue no longer being decided in the scientific arena.

Saying the Earth is warming is to state the obvious. Since the end of the ice age, the Earth’s temperature has increased approximately 16 degrees Fahrenheit and sea levels have risen a total of 300 feet. That is certain and measurable evidence of warming, but it is not evidence of AGW—human-caused warming.

We can track the temperature of the Earth back for millennia. Knowing the temperature of the Earth, past or present, is a matter of collecting data, analyzing it, and coming up with the best answer to account for the data. Collecting such data on a global basis is a NASA forte.

I believe in global climate change, but there is no way that humans can influence the temperature of our planet to any measurable degree with the tools currently at their disposal. Any human contribution to global temperature change is lost in the noise of terrestrial and cosmic factors.

Our beautiful home planet has been warming and cooling for the last 4.8 billion years. Most recently, it has been warming—be it ever so slightly—but there is nothing unusual about it! The changes and rates of change in the Earth’s temperature, just since the Industrial Revolution, have occurred many times in our climatic history. While climate scientists generally agree that the Earth’s temperature is always changing, not many of them would say that humans are responsible for those changes.

None of this is to say there are not legitimate reasons to restrict emissions of any number of chemicals into the atmosphere. We should just not fool ourselves into thinking we will change the temperature of the Earth by doing so.

In a December 2007 Senate report, 400 prominent scientists signed a letter pointing out that climate change was a well-known natural phenomenon, and that adapting to it is far more sensible than attempting to prevent it. Their ranks included experts in climatology, geology, oceanography, biology, glaciology, biogeography, meteorology, economics, chemistry, mathematics, environmental sciences, engineering, physics, and paleo-climatology. Their message: When changes are gradual, man has an almost infinite ability to adapt and evolve.

The fearmongers of global warming base their case on the correlation between CO2 and global temperature, even though we cannot be sure which is cause and which is effect. Historically, temperature increases have preceded high CO2 levels, and there have been periods when atmospheric CO2 levels were as much as 16 times what they are now, periods characterized not by warming but by glaciation. You might have to go back half a million years to match our current level of atmospheric CO2, but you only have to go back to the Medieval Warming Period, from the 10th to the 14th Century, to find an intense global warming episode, followed immediately by the drastic cooling of the Little Ice Age. Neither of these events were caused by variations in CO2 levels.

Even though CO2 is a relatively minor constituent of “greenhouse gases,” alarmists have made it the whipping boy for global warming (probably because they know how fruitless it would be to propose controlling other principal constituents, H2O, CH4, and N2O). Since human activity does contribute a tiny portion of atmospheric CO2, they blame us for global warming.

Other inconvenient facts ignored by the activists: Carbon dioxide is a nonpolluting gas, essential for plant photosynthesis. Higher concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere produce bigger harvests.

In spite of warnings of severe consequences from rising seas, droughts, severe weather, species extinction, and other disasters, the U.S. has not been stampeded into going along with the recommendations of the UN Panel on Climate Change—so far. Even though evidence supports the American position, we have begun to show signs of caving in to the alarmists.

With scientific evidence going out of style, emotional arguments and anecdotal data are ruling the day. The media subjects us to one frightening image of environmental nightmare after another, linking each to global warming. Journalists and activist scientists use hurricanes, wildfires, and starving polar bears to appeal to our emotions, not to our reason. They are far more concerned with anecdotal observations, such as the frozen sea ice inside the Arctic Circle, than they are with understanding why it is happening and how frequently it has occurred in the past.

After warnings that 2007 would be the hottest year on record and a record year for hurricanes, what we experienced was the coolest year since 2001 and, by some measures, the most benign hurricane season in the Northern Hemisphere in three decades.

Even though recent changes in our atmosphere are all within the bounds of the Earth’s natural variability, a growing number of people are willing to throw away trillions of dollars on fruitless solutions. Why do we allow emotional appeals and anecdotal data to shape our conclusions and influence our expenditures with the science and technology we have available at our fingertips?

The situation is complex, but the sad state of scientific literacy in America today is partially to blame for belief in AGW. When a 2006 National Science Foundation survey found 25 percent of Americans not knowing the Earth revolves around the Sun, you know that science education is at a new low and society is vulnerable to the emotional appeal of AGW. And don’t underestimate the role of politics and political correctness.

The public debate should focus on the real cause of global temperature change and whether we can do anything about it. Is global warming a natural inevitability, or is it AGW—human caused?

The conflict over AGW has deteriorated into a religious war; a war between true believers in human-caused global warming and nonbelievers; between those who accept AGW on faith and those who consider themselves more sensible and better informed. “True believers” are beyond being interested in evidence; it is impossible to reason a person out of positions they have not been reasoned into.

It doesn’t help that NASA scientist James Hansen was one of the early alarmists claiming humans caused global warming. Hansen is a political activist who spreads fear even when NASA’s own data contradict him.

Warming in the upper atmosphere should occur before any surface warming effect, but NASA’s own data show that has not been happening. Global temperature readings—accurate to 0.1 degree Celsius—are gathered by orbiting satellites. Interestingly, in the 18 years those satellites have been recording global temperatures, they have actually shown a slight decrease in average temperatures.

Hansen is currently calling for a reduction of atmospheric CO2 by 10 percent and a moratorium on coal-fired power plants, while claiming the Bush administration is censoring him. Other so-called scientists are saying the world must bring carbon emissions to near zero to keep temperatures from rising.

In today’s politically correct environment, many are reluctant to dispute the popular wisdom; when they do, they are frequently ignored. When NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, Hansen’s boss and a distinguished scientist in his own right, attempted to draw a distinction between Hansen’s personal and political views and the science conducted by his agency, he was soon forced to back off.

It is the true believers who, when they have no facts on their side, try to silence their critics. When former NASA mathematician Ferenc Miskolczi pointed out that “greenhouse warming” may be mathematically impossible, NASA would not allow him to publish his work. Miskolczi dared to question the simplifying assumption in the warming model that the atmosphere is infinitely thick. He pointed out that when you use the correct thickness—about 65 miles—the greenhouse effect disappears! Ergo: no AGW. Miskolczi resigned in disgust and published his proof in the peerreviewed Hungarian journal Weather.

For nearly a decade now, there has been no global warming. Even though atmospheric CO2 has continued to accumulate—up about 4 percent in the last 10 years—the global mean temperature has remained flat. That should raise obvious questions about CO2 being the cause of climate change.

Instead, AGW enthusiasts are embracing more regulation, greater government spending, and higher taxes in a futile attempt to control what is beyond our control—the Earth’s temperature. One of their political objectives, unstated of course, is the transfer of wealth from rich nations to poor nations or, as the social engineers put it, from the North to the South, which may be their real agenda.

Read the rest of this article at Launch Magazine.

  • Jeff

    We need someone with scientific credentials to assume a leadership role in setting the global warming science record straight. A heck of a lot of our hard earned money is about to be taken from us in the name of saving the planet from CO2 emissions. This money is going to go into the pockets of Al Gore, T. Boone Pickins, and many others whose names most of us have never heard before. We shouldn’t give them our money without a fight.

    Is there anyone up for this task?

    Part of the argument must assert the fact that the more oil we drill from the USA, and the sooner we do it, the less dollars will go to the other oil producing countries. We cannot wait until alternative sources of energy have been developed. By then, the USA will be broke.

    Is anyone up for this task?

  • DJ

    Jeff, wake up!!! Our Country has been running on Borrowed Monies for Decades… And it will not get better if the Democrats get in and pass this Environmental Hay Bogel and raise Our Taxes…

    I agree with you on someone specifically takes over but are “Partisan” only… Which would be tough.

  • David

    Unfortunately, there are many otherwise intelligent people who suggest that anthropomorphic global warming is scientific fact, citing IPCC and opinions of global warming scientists.

    The theory of AGW, as I understand it, states that man has caused global temperatures to rise by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. Perhaps proponents of AGW [global warmongerers] in fact need a refresher course in the basics of scientific method.

    Scientific fact has a very high standard to maintain. A scientific fact must always be true. Scientific facts are not like legal facts, a jury doesn’t decide “the preponderance of evidence points to this verdict – we side with the plaintiff.”

    3000 Project Argo diving buoys have each been measuring temperatures in the parts of world oceans near the surface every 10 days for the past 5 years (2003 – 2008). as reported by America’s National Public Radio, there’s been no warming. There’s actually been a slight cooling in ocean temperatures, this cooling is within natural variation.

    This Argo data *is* scientific fact, drawn from empirical observation – the gold standard of science. Unless the authenticity of the Argo data is suspect, how can anyone calling himself/herself a scientist continue to suggest AGW is factual?

  • james O’Connell

    This is all very interesting and I keep an open mind on the issue. Can you explain the recent depletion of ice in the Arctic area? I am a school teacher in Australia and yesterday teachers listened for one and a half hours to a visiting speaker who assured us that human caused global warming was a dangerous reality. of course I ahdn;t prepared any speech of my own but had heard it said by a journalist here, Andrew Bolt that temperatures have been stable for ten years. I looked on the Aqua site and found its figures confusing but peraps suggesting a very small increase or a difference between upper and lower atmosphere. I suggested at the meeting that information was ambiguous and our speaker became indignant saying that anti-climate change advocates cherry picked isolated info and that they were puppets of big industries much like in the debate over smoking and tobacco companies. Whilst this might be possible I suggested it was a massive generalisation. My principal gave me an annoyed and sneering look, I guess because his vested interest was to receive the grant for our school. And we have done some great stuff with recycling, gardens etc but the premise of global warming behind it seems insufficiently proved. I suggested we need not to indocrinate kids and the nearest I got agreement was that we should let them know of the ‘bad’ ideas as a contrast to the good. I doubt if my principal, who is very opinionative, would allow someone to put an alternative view to students and teachers but I hate being preached to. James.

  • Arctic ice comes and goes. The Northwest Passage, for example (note: “passage”) used to be routinely navigated. Of late, it’s remained frozen and impassable. Whenever you see pictures of melting arctic ice, breaking ice sheets, etc, find out whether the pictures were taken in the summer. The current arctic ice trend is growth, as is antarctic ice.

  • Dennis Sabbagh

    The irresponsibility of Politicians and Americans too assume knowledge by the likes of Al Gore or world panels is ignoring historical rhetoric
    from these sources.The groups and ideologists MO is always the same.Monetary gain,redistributing of wealth and the weakening of America.
    The fact that Global warming data from computer models created by government funded institutions,is used as fact is suspicious in itself.

    A computer model of weather phenomena is nothing more then a computer game,you can make that model create any scenario or data you wish.
    Throw in ideology,corporate greed and World politics and you have a computer model that is void of any objective science.

A project of Minnesota Majority, hosted and maintained by Minnesotans for Global Warming.