July 2001 (vol. 17, #5)
1601 N Tucson Blvd #9, Tucson AZ 85716
c 2001 Physicians for Civil Defense
Those who were taught in grade school that ``all energy comes from the sun'' might think to ask whether this enormous furnace has something to do with temperature changes on earth. After all, there had to be a natural cause for climate fluctuations -``upheavals'' would be a better term-in the millennia preceding the Industrial Revolution, when conditions ranged from ice-free poles to extreme cold with massive continental ice sheets.
The introduction to a series of articles on paleoclimatology includes the obligatory politically correct assertion that ``the importance of this task is underlined by the growing awareness of how profoundly human activity is affecting climate'' (Science 4/27/01)-an assertion backed by no evidence. The journal, however, explores a variety of evidence for profound climate changes, over periods as short as a few decades, long before human activities could have been significant. About 40 to 60% of past temperature variability is attributed to volcanism and variations in solar irradiance.
At times, entire empires collapsed, their people reduced to low levels of subsistence. At other times, populations migrated. Of particular importance were prolonged droughts, associated with climatic perturbations, ``extreme in their duration and intensity, far surpassing droughts recorded during the modern instrumental period.'' The droughts recurred every 200 years, in step with 200-year oscillations in solar activity.
Variations in sunspot numbers and solar brightness are recorded in the abundance of cosmic ray-produced radioactive carbon-14 in tree rings. The chronology of the drought that may have caused the fall of the great Mayan civilization is reflected in the varying amounts of gypsum (CaSO4) deposited on the floor of Lake Chichancanab in central Yucatan. The bicentennial climate signal is also seen on the other side of the world in a stalagmite in a cave in Oman (Science 292:1293, 5/13/01).
The cyclic nodding of the earth's axis of rotation and the periodic increase in orbital eccentricity also affect the amount of solar radiation reaching earth. Simultaneous extremes of two variations-a ``double whammy'' or ``orbital anomaly''-could cause disastrous climate change (Science 292:191, 4/13/01).
Earth is a water world. The heat capacity, currents, and CO2 content of the oceans (38,000 GT, compared with 750 GT in the atmosphere, 2000 in the biosphere, and 5.5 GT released by human activities) are enormously important in determining climate but are poorly understood.
Disruption of the North Atlantic ``conveyor belt'' for transferring heat from the tropics poleward (thermohaline circulation) is one proposed method by which human emissions of CO2 could cause sudden disaster by increasing fresh-water influx. Different global circulation models (GCMs) give inconsistent predictions, being highly sensitive to parameterizations of various components of the hydrologic cycle such as precipitation, evaporation, and river runoff. In a paper slated to appear in Climate Research, Willie Soon et al note that understanding of the conveyor belt is deficient: to draw mainly on the role of buoyancy loss leading to sinking is ``somewhat like trying to push a string.'' Possibly, ``the tropics rule,'' rather than the North Atlantic, but progress in understanding has been limited by lack of instrumental data for sufficient periods of time, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere. A new proxy thermometer-the Sr/Ca ratio in coral reefs-has recently become available (Science 11/10/00).
The earth itself has been in upheaval due to plate tectonics. Major changes in continental geography and the location of oceanic gateways-such as the uplift of the Himalayas, the opening and widening of the two Antarctic gateways, and the closure of the Central American seaway-triggered massive changes in the global climate system. Changes in greenhouse gases-as from a catastrophic release of methane from marine clathrates-may have amplified the climate changes (Science 292:686-693, 4/27/01). While today's global warmers are concerned about a rise in the concentration of CO2 from about 290 ppm in 1900 to about 360 ppm in 2000, it might have been greater than 3,000 ppm at times during the earth's history, according to proxy measurements such as the size of the stomates in fossil leaves (Nature 411:247-248, 5/17/00).
The most important greenhouse gas is water, and the GCM models have numerous problems dealing with precipitation, humidity, and clouds. Cloud cover has a very large effect on the earth's albedo. Soon et al conclude that ``no reliable predictions currently exist for the response of clouds to increased atmospheric CO2.'' A decrease in the radius of low-level stratus-cloud droplet size from 10 Ám to 8 Ám would be sufficient to balance warming from doubling the CO2 concentration, as would a 4% increase in the area of stratus clouds over the globe.
In considering the effect of aerosols, natural sources such as sea salt and dimethyl sulfide from marine phytoplankton, dominate the effect of anthropogenic emissions. The effect of aerosols on clouds is highly uncertain and difficult to quantify (Soon, Baliunas, Idso, Kondratyev, Posmentier, op. cit.).
The sun also affects clouds. Superimposed on the solar changes that span centuries is the 11-year sunspot cycle with attendant changes in solar magnetic field. The average strength of the interplanetary magnetic field has doubled over the past century. This field affects the impingement of cosmic rays on the earth. ``It has been suggested that cosmic rays affect the total cloud cover of the Earth and thus drive the terrestrial climate'' (Nature 408:445-447, 11/23/00).
To improve understanding of global climate, improved observational capability is essential. Much better resolution is needed to help distinguish causes of change.
``Our current lack of understanding of the Earth's climate system does not allow us to determine reliably the magnitude of climate change that will be caused by anthropogenic CO2 emissions, let alone whether this change will be for the better for worse,'' write Soon and coauthors. Is human effort to mitigate climate change necessary? ``If natural and largely uncontrollable factors that yield rapid climate change are common, are humans capable of actively modifying climate for the better?'' Certainly, effective action requires a better understanding of climate processes, with inclusive consideration of all climate forcings, ``rather than a piecemeal approach that yields oversimplifications.''
What is needed is science-formulating and testing a falsifiable hypothesis-not just computer modeling.
Eagle Forum's new on-line university is presenting a global warming course, with Jane Orient as instructor. The course began July 17 and will continue for four weeks. Although materials will remain available, discussion boards close soon after the end of the course. Registration is free; sign up at www.eagleforumu.org. Please join the discussion. You also might want to apply to be the instructor in your own course!
About nine millennia ago, a little wobble of the Earth's axis-a mere sneeze as cosmic events go-might have driven ancient humans living in a lush region now known as the Sahara Desert away from their homes, as their water supply and greenery vanished over the course of a few centuries. This may have led to a flowering of civilization as population density increased around the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates Rivers (explorezone.com, 7/12/99).
In the Medieval Warm Period, the snow line in the Rocky Mountains was 1,000 feet higher than today. Sea ice disappeared from the coast of Iceland for centuries. But by the 1200s, extreme cold had set in, causing terrible hardships throughout the world. Centuries old citrus orchards froze in China, and the Thames froze to a depth of up to 5 feet in the winter.
In recent years, extremes of weather have whipsawed Detroit. In '16, flowers bloomed in midwinter, but in '17 there was a foot of snow on the ground in May. In '45, ships could cross Lake Erie all winter, but in '56 heavy frosts in July ruined fruit and vegetable crops. Numerous severe events occurred, possibly leading to the conclusion that Al Gore and Ross Gelbspan are vindicated-except that the source is ``The History of Detroit and Wayne County and Early Michigan'' by Silas Farmer, published in 1890 (see www.sepp.org).
Claims of a global temperature increase of 0.5 degrees Centigrade over the past century rely heavily on measuring the temperature by dipping buckets into the sea or checking the water flowing into engine uptakes. Scientists assumed that there was a simple link between the temperature of the sea water and the air above it. This turns out not to be the case, possibly because the atmosphere responds more quickly to cooling events such as volcanic eruptions. This method has exaggerated the rate of warming by about 40%, according to an article by Robert Matthews in the UK Telegraph, 1/14/01.
How much is Gov. Gray Davis paying for California electricity and to whom? California legislators and his own finance department would like to know. GOP state senator Tom McClintock charges that the governor is ``day trading in the electricity market'' to the sum of $50 million per day. Davis states that divulging how much the state pays for electricity will dilute his bargaining power with energy wholesalers.
Republican lawmakers have filed suit under the California Public Records Act to require Davis to release the figures. Judicial Watch is also suing to ``get a look at the plays on the energy craps table,'' where the State's budget surplus may have been gambled away (Hans S. Nichols, Insight 6/11/01).
``Why set fire to the Reichstag, when you can simply extinguish the lights?'' asks Dr. David Stolinsky (``The New Totalitarians,'' NewsMax.com, 6/4/01).
High, thin cirrus clouds may act much like the iris of the eye in regulating the admission of light. Unlike thick clouds, which reflect more sunlight back into space, thin clouds trap more heat at the surface. A 22% decrease in cirrus cloud cover leads to a decrease in sea surface temperature of about 1.1 degrees Centigrade. And when the sea surface temperature rises by that amount, the cirrus clouds decrease by about 22%. This self-regulation effect requires climate modelers to scale back the projected warming from a doubling of CO2 by as much as two-thirds. (See National Policy Analysis #336, May 2001, National Center for Policy Research, 777 N. Capitol St. NE Suite 803, Washington, DC 20002, (202) 371-1400, www.nationalcenter.org/NPA336.html, based on a report by Richard Lindzen et al, Bull Am Meterol Soc, March 2001.)
Career bureaucrats at the EPA were delighted when the Supreme Court upheld the agency's authority to enforce the 1970 Clean Air Act regardless of the costs imposed on industry (Browner v American Trucking Associations, see Sept. 2000 issue). Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the Clean Air Act ``unambiguously bars cost considerations.''
``This alone makes the Clean Air Act not only a legal document but a religious document,'' argues Rabbi Daniel Lapin in Toward Tradition, Summer 2001. ``If there is a realm of human endeavor where money literally is no object, it must be the realm of religion, which is all about ultimate values.'' He notes that he doesn't bother to calculate the money lost as a result of observing the Sabbath. The environment is the ultimate value to some-who seek to impose their values on us all.