Monday, June 25, 2007

How to build a straw man

I make no secret of the fact that I'm sceptical of the supposed anthropogenic aspect of climate change. To me, it just doesn't make any sense, but I've not always taken that position.

Ten years ago, as much of the world was signing up to the Kyoto protocol I was one of those who believed that man was having a potentially catastrophic effect on the earth's climate. I believed that because that was what I was being told - by the newspapers, by the television and even on the Internet.

The Internet, back then was a fairly new thing still - but it was through the Internet 10 years ago that I came across the thing that was to ultimately lead me to alter my position on man-made climate change.

The Milankovitch Cycle.

For those of you not aware, the Milankovitch Cycle refers to the way the earth "wobbles" on its axis. The tilt of the earth varies from 22.1 to 24.5 degrees. As it wobbles, the seasons become more or less marked and the poles receive more or less sunlight depending on whether the earth is tilted closer to or further from the sun.

When I thought about that it made me think - if a minor deviation in the earth's tilt can have such a marked effect on the seasons (effectively warming or cooling the climate significantly) then could that be causing climate change?

But the Milankovitch Cycle in itself could not be the cause of climate change because a cycle lasts around 41,000 years. However, it made me realise that if a minor shift in a part of the planet towards the sun can increase the temperature significantly - and a similar shift away from the sun for another part can reduce the temperature significantly then that suggests that the biggest influencer on the climate must be the sun.

This seemed to be backed up the simple fact that the warmest places on earth tend to be the places that are closest to the sun - the tropics. The difference in the distance to the sun between, say, the Tropic of Cancer and Britain is, in terms of the huge distance between the sun and the earth, insignificant - but it was enough for the sun to have a significantly higher warming effect on the Tropic than on Britain.

My thinking was, of course, very unscientific - but it made me wonder if there was more to this "man-made global warming" than was meeting the eye. From that moment on I became sceptical of man-made global warming - sceptical in the true sense of the word in that I decided to look into the subject in more depth and with a more open mind. Instead of believing everything the media was telling me, I started to question everything.

Over the years I have since learned that the sun doesn't generate energy at the same rate all the time, but that it rises in falls in cycles - an indication of which are sunspots. The greater the number of sunspots the more energy the sun gives out. It's not a hard and fast rule, but it is a good indicator of the strength of the sun. And recently we have had the revelation that the suns activity has an effect on cosmic rays which play an important part in cloud formation - and cloud formation plays a hugely important part in climate.

So, over the last ten years I have gone from being a believer in anthropogenic global warming to a confirmed sceptic. When I believed in it it was because I derived almost all my information on the subject from "approved" sources - the media. But thanks to the Internet I was able to find out things that made me think and, by applying what I like to think of as common sense coupled to more scientific findings I have reached the position today where I believe that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support the belief that man-made carbon dioxide emissions are the key driver behind climate change. I don't even believe they are a minor driver anymore - they are utterly insignificant.

My view is that, given current information and predictions on solar activity, we are likely as not to see a significant decrease in that activity in the near future - in the next 10-20 years - which will lay to rest this myth once and for all. If these predictions are correct - and there is no guarantee they will be, after all, they are just predictions - then the earth is about to enter a significant cooling phase that may equal conditions of Dalton Minimum or even the Maunder Minimum - periods when freezing winters were common place in Britain.

I wonder, if this happens as I expect, what will happen then to all those people who have supported and propagated the AGW myth? For instance, the IPCC? If we do enter a cooling phase and if we do see temperatures plummet (without any decrease in CO2 levels - what will the reaction of people be to the IPCC? Or the NGO's like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth? And what about the national governments and politicians? And what will be the response to science?

If, as I expect, it is revealed in the near future that all these groups have been lying to us for years and years then I believe it is entirely possible that we will see a collapse of the current establishment. People just will not trust these groups again - not the UN, not the EU, not the NGO's, not the scientists, not the media (especially the BBC) and not the old political parties - for a very long time.

It could mean anarchy, though I suspect it will just mean a return to sensible politics again - with new parties filling the void. Crucially, though, I believe it will see the end of the liberal left - the principle group behind the propagation of the AGW myth.

I have been told that by pinning my beliefs on the prospect of this coming cooling phase, I have built a straw man for myself. Ignoring that the use of "straw man" in this instance is incorrect and assuming they mean an argument that will easily be refuted if we do not enter a cooling phase, I beg to differ. the "cooling phase" is dependent on the predictions of sun activity being right - they may not be and the sun may continue at its current level for some time.

And even if the suns activities don't make a difference and climate change really is driven by man then what does it matter to me? I'm just a blogger who is swimming against the tide. If I'm proven wrong so what? What have I got to lose other than looking a bit silly?

The real straw man has been built by the AGW supporters - and it is massive. And hiding behind this straw man are the reputations and interests of huge organisations, massive political structures and even science itself. These are the groups and people who really have something at stake and that really is a straw man to be proud of.

I also wonder what lengths they will go to to protect their interests and reputations and preserve their power?


JC said...

Earth's climate is very sensitive to solar activity. Sami Solanki at the Max Planck Insitute compared solar activity & temperatures over the past 1150 years and found temperatures closely correlate to solar activity. When sunspot activity was low during the Maunder Minimum in the 1600's or the Dalton Minimum in the 1800's, the earth went through 'small ice ages'. The sun has been unusually hot in the last century - solar output rose dramatically in the early 20th century accompanied by a sharp rise in global temperatures.

However, Solanki also found the correlation between solar activity and global temperatures ended around 1975. At that point, temperatures started rising while solar activity stayed level. This led him to conclude "during these last 30 years the solar total irradiance, solar UV irradiance and cosmic ray flux has not shown any significant secular trend, so that at least this most recent warming episode must have another source."

This is confirmed by direct satellite measurements that find no rising trend since 1978, sunspot numbers which have leveled out since 1950, the Max Planck Institute reconstruction that shows irradience has been steady since 1950 and solar radio flux or flare activity which shows no rising trend over the past 30 years. Ironically, it's the sun's close correlation with Earth's temperature that proves it has little to do with the last 30 years of global warming.

This conclusion is backed up by other studies quantifying the amount of solar influence in recent global warming. Lean 1999 concludes "it is unlikely that Sun–climate relationships can account for much of the warming since 1970". Waple 1999 finds "little evidence to suggest that changes in irradiance are having a large impact on the current warming trend." Frolich 1998 concludes "solar radiative output trends contributed little of the 0.2°C increase in the global mean surface temperature in the past decade"

The sun has been the primary driver of Earth's climate in the past but solar variations are conspicuous in their absence over the last 30 years of long term global warming.

Stan said...

Thanks for commenting JC, but what you've posted is all old news.

In climate science terms, papers from 1998 or 1999 are ancient history - they serve a purpose ss reference points for newer studies, but are by no means definitive scientific arguments.

Secondly, as Solanki himself points out, there has been no consistent reliable method of measuring solar activity since 1978 - "no single radiometer managed
to stay operational since then so that the irradiance
record for this period is a patchwork made from the
measurements of a number of individual instruments, each
of which has its own calibration and exhibits a slightly
different absolute total solar irradiance. This makes the
construction of a composite a delicate affair".

So claiming that there is no "rising trend" since 1978 is a very hit and miss affair - it is also at odds with the earlier Willson study that showed solar radiance had increased considerably from the solar minimum of 1985 to 1996.

It is also very contentious whether we are still in a warming phase. Various studies have claimed that warming has stopped since 1998.

And of course, there has been no net warming in the southern hemisphere at all. Not so much global warming as demi-global warming.

More recent studies by Svensmark have demonstrated the part cosmic rays play in cloud formation has a significant impact on climate too.

And my own view, very unscientific of course, but based purely on common sense, is that if a minor shift in the proximity of Britain to the sun - so minor as to be virtually impercebtible in cosmic terms - can result in a temperature difference of around 15C (roughly the difference between summer and winter temperature) then it is perfectly believable that a slightly brighter sun can warm the earth by a degree or two, wouldn't you think?

Irrespective of all this, my question remains - what will happen if, as I expect, the earth enters a cooling phase?

Scientists will claim - as they did in the late seventies with the ice age scare - that they never siad it would happen and that it was the media blowing things all out of proportion. But this time - thanks to the internet and thanks to the huge coverage given to "man-made global warming" they will not be able to get away with it.

Nor will the NGOs like Greenpeace, or the governments and politicians, or the EU or UN.

There will be millions of people - billions even - who will look at these groups and see the way they have been lied to and bullied by these groups.

This will cause a complete collapse in these groups authority - which, in my view, could be a good thing.

Will this happen? Who knows? But, if the predictions about solar activity are correct, we may well find out in the next 5, 10 or 20 years.

JC said...

Stan, thanks for the reply. Actually Solanki's study was published in 2005. There's also Scafetta's paper in 2006 that concludes "Since 1975 global warming has occurred much faster than could be reasonably expected from the sun alone."

There are more ways to measure solar activity than just irradiance. Sunspots have been counted for hundreds of years and show the same correlation with global temperatures in the past as well as a lack of correlation after 1975.

Ditto cosmic rays which inversely correlate with irradiance and sunspot numbers (eg - as the sun gets brighter, it's magnetic field is stronger and less cosmic rays hit earth). Consequently and as expected, there has been no long term trend in cosmic rays over the 50 years they've been directly measured. So even if cosmic rays are linked to cloud formation, all they'll find is the cloud formation 50 years ago is similar to now and has little to no impact on the last 30 years of long term global warming.

Re your theory on summer/winter/brightening sun, the point is we can see how much solar variations affect the earth by comparing solar activity to temperature in the past. They almost always correlate - the only times they don't correlate is if something else influences our climate like a volcano eruption. Over the last 30 years, there has been no correlation at all. Check out this comparison of solar irradiance and temperature over the 20th century to put it in perspective.

Re the idea that we haven't warmed since 1998, 1998 was an unusually hot year because it featured the strongest El Nino of the century. Climate change is concerned with long term trends - that's the only way to filter out the noise of weather which is chaotic by nature. As for 2007, I just read today that so far it's tied with 1998 as hottest year on record - and that's with no El Nino in effect at the moment.

Stan said...

Globally tied with 1998, JC - or just for a particular part?

Sunspots are not a method for measuring solar irradiance - jsut an indicator of increased or decreased solar irradiance - and not a hard and fast indicator, either.

Svensmark begs to differ with your belief that cosmic rays don't matter.

My "theory" on summer/winter is not a theory. I don't need to compare historical records to know that summer in Britain is warmer than winter. I know it is like I know the grass is green.

The point I was making is that a relatively minor change to the amount of solar radiation we receive is enough to trigger a difference in temperature of around 15C - Solanki has conceded that the sun has been shining more brightly in recent years than for anytime in our recent past and it seems pretty daft to me to reject that as a reason for a temperature increase of a degree or two when a minor shift in Britain's position to the sun can trigger an increase a considerably greater temperature increase.

Back to the point, though, if predictions about the sun are correct we will know soon enough.

Stan said...

And if you're interested, JC, you may want to take a look at this.

It is also shown with a high degree of assurance that there is a synchronous linkage
between the statistically significant, 21-year periodicity in these processes and the
acceleration and deceleration of the sun as it moves through galactic space. Despite a
diligent search, no evidence could be found of trends in the data that could be attributed
to human activities.

JC said...

Re summer/winter, I obviously wasn't disputing the reality of the seasons and to imply so is one of those strawman arguments you refer to. I'm making the point that whatever proxy you want to use - sunspots, cosmic rays, UV radiation, directly measured irradiance or reconstructed irradiance - they all show no correlation with temperature after 1975.

Solanki showed how closely temperature correlates with solar activity and yes, it has shone brighter this century. It rose sharply in the first few decades, as did global temperatures. Then the solar level flattened out in the 50's, as did global temperatures. Solar levels dropped slightly over the next decade as did global temperatures. Then from 1960 to 2007, solar levels have been either perfectly level or shown a slight upward trend. The trend is so slight that scientists are arguing over whether there's a trend or not. Meanwhile, temperatures have shot up from 1975 at a rate equal or greater to the temperature rise at the start of the century.

At the start of the century, solar trends were jumping up. This is in sharp contrast to solar trends now. Again, I suggest you check out this Max Planck Institute reconstruction to put it in perspective.

Re Svensmark, his study on cosmic rays looks at the correlation between cosmic rays and clouds but it completely glosses over the fact that the correlation between cosmic rays and temperature ended in the 70's. He even displays a graph where when global warming starts in 1975, temperature goes up, cosmic rays go down. It's quite extraordinary.

Re 2007 tied with 1998 as the hottest year on record (so far), it's globally. To be honest, this surprised me. Right now we're at the minimum of the 11 year solar cycle - if you look at temperature trends over the last 30 years, the warming trend is not a straight line but gets steeper then shallower in time with the solar cycle. It's been shallower over the last few years as we've been heading into a solar minimum. So the next half dozen years should see temperature trends get steeper again. If 2007 does turn out to be hotter than 1998, 2008 will certainly beat it and 2012 when we hit solar maximum is gonna smash all past records out of the park. Not a pleasant prospect.

JC said...

Note - to clarify about the lack of correlation between cosmic rays and temperature in Svensmark's study, when temperature went up, cosmic rays also went up - but Svensmark was displaying cosmic rays inverted in order to get a correlation (so visually they went down after 1975).

JC said...

Stan, I finally got around to reading that study on the solar impact on water resource levels.

The study finds a strong correlation between water levels and sunspot numbers. But the correlation is a short term correlation - there is little to no correlation in the long term trends.

For example, there is no long term trend in Lake Victoria's levels from 1900 to 1940 when solar activity showed long term increase. The correlation then breaks down between 1930 to 1970. Next, to obtain correlation over 1968 to 2005, they filter out a 29mm per year trend. They don't explain why there's been a long term trend of falling water levels over the last 37 years.

In fact, all the case studies show short term correlation with solar cycles but no long term correlation with decadal solar trends. There's so much noise due to tributary inflows, outflows, sluicing, rainfall, evaporation that while short term correlations with the solar cycle are useful, determining or finding meaning in long term trends is problematic. Measuring water levels is a roundabout way of determing the sun's effect on global warming. A more direct method would be to observe the correlation between solar activity and global temperatures - enter Sami Solanki...

Stan said...

Regardless of my or your point of view, JC, the fact remains that if - as predicted - the sun's activity is about to decline dramatically, we will soon know the answer.

Either way, you or I might look a bit silly - but in the grand scheme of things, that is no big deal for either of us.

If, however, we do enter a cooling phase and, as I personally expect, temperatures do start to fall (and possibly quite dramatically) what will that mean for the parties I mentioned - and in particular for science?

A lot of influential people have tied their reputations to AGW - and have a lot to lose if it is discovered to be unfounded. We live in interesting times.

JC said...

Stan, it's a good question, what does the impending solar cooling mean for AGW. I've been thinking through this myself. For starters, it has no bearing whatsoever on the debate of what's causing global warming as it's merely a prediction of what will happen 20 years in the future, not what has happened over the last 30 years.

As for the implications, these are my initial thoughts - I'd be interested in your thoughts. If (and while you'd say it's a big if, go with me on this) humans are causing global warming, that means over the next decade or two things will continue to get hotter and there'll be nasty impacts on drought, agriculture, sea levels, disease, heatwaves, etc. However, then there'll be (if predictions are correct), a period of several decades where the sun is cooler.

The way I see it, this may buy us the time to wean ourselves off our dependence on fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy. We have to do this anyway as our oil reserves diminish but crucially, we'll have been granted several more decades grace to develop technology and make the transition.

I'm not sure if that's correct logic or not - just one crazy way of looking at the situation. Comments?

Stan said...

It's a good question, JC - but if you don't mind I won't comment right now as I plan to cover it in a future post.