Global Warming — Where Should Skeptics Stand?

Although I have been receiving free email alerts for a long time, I am a (very) new member. Among the goodies which I received a couple of days ago was the Spring, 2003 newsletter, number 69. Obviously, free speech is the first requisite of such an organ, but I was rather taken aback by contribution in Forum from Lance Kennedy of Tantec, an organisation in the biocide industry, on the subject of global warming. Its content is highly selective, and it contravenes all the principles outlined in the Skeptics Guide to Critical Thinking. He writes of a “sound and healthy reluctance to subscribe to anthropogenic greenhouse… warming”. He says that the Scientific American is committed to “greenie (a pejorative term which has no place in a serious discussion) nonsense”.

He believes that criticism of Bjorn Lomborg, author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist” comes into this category. Perhaps it is time to look more carefully at Lomborg. Until recently, this very personable young man held a rather lowly position on the staff of the political “science” department at Aarhus University, Denmark, and since his book was published, he has become the archpriest of the multi-billion dollar greenwashing industry. Although the greenwashers’ hype portrays him as a “brilliant statistician”, the Statistics Department of his own university has publicly disowned (on the university website) his methods as flawed and unacceptable. He writes of many disciplines, but he has never published a peer-reviewed paper in any of them. In every discipline, his methods, data, and conclusions have been roundly repudiated by a large majority of the scientific establishment of that discipline. Who then is right? — a lonely Don Quixote, tilting at imaginary windmills, or the scientific establishment?

Kennedy deals with three issues; these are:

  1. “Glacial extensions of the polar icecap on Mars are now in retreat. Peninsulas and islands of ice disappearing”. This he naively takes as evidence that solar output must be increasing. However, this is in fact evidence of precisely the opposite! Atmospheric cooling on Mars locks water vapour up as ice in the icecaps, and causes the lower latitude extensions to disappear rapidly. Own goal!
  2. “Meteorologists are adopting a new stance… many want to move away from ‘anthropogenicity’ and accept that warming happens.” This rather vague statement falls into the category of a paper tiger or, as the “Skeptics Guide to Creation “Science” puts it, a straw man. I am not aware that meteorologists “want” to believe in anthropogenic warming. It is put forward as the most probable explanation of the observed facts. Indeed, most would be delighted to be proved wrong. This is where real science differs from junk science. Greenwashers “know” they are right; scientists try to preserve open minds. Another example of naivety is to suggest that meteorologists have a vested interest in “preserving the myth”, for fear of losing their research grants. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are a thousand reasons for wishing to learn more about our climate and global warming research is a by-product rather than the primary object. If all such research were to cease immediately, it would make little or no difference to climate research as a whole. What meteorologists and others recommend is the exercise of prudence in the light of current theory. This is opposed both by greenwashers and by many in the pseudoscience of economics as advocated by those of the Friedman school, in whose eyes “sustainable development” is never an oxymoron.
  3. He refers to a paper on the influence of cosmic rays on the atmosphere, though not to the original paper by Fangqun Yu of the State University of New York. It was put forward as a mere hypothesis at this stage, and if subsequent work provides confirmation it will be a useful explanation for the anomalous discrepancy between surface temperatures and those in the atmosphere just above, which will be welcomed by all meteorologists. Kennedy doesn’t mention that Yu also suggests that interaction between greenhouse gases and the ionisation caused by cosmic rays may also be a contributing factor to greenhouse warming. Yu also points out that his hypothesis does not in any way rule out anthropogenic contributions to gobal warming.

Alan P Ryan, Retired meteorologist

Global Warming

In contrast to Lance Kennedy (Forum 69), I regret the failure of The Skeptics to recognise the reality of anthropogenic climate change.

The basics are undeniable:

  • Atmospheric carbon dioxide warms the atmosphere by blocking outgoing radiation.
  • Anthropogenic emissions of CO2 have been growing for two centuries, and especially in the last half century. Atmospheric CO2 is now a third higher than pre-industrial levels.
  • Radiation from the earth into space has been measured directly. A comparison of data for 1990 and 1997 showed the expected fall, with the largest reductions at the predicted wavelengths.

Beyond the basics, climate change is hellishly complex and far from fully understood, but enough is known to show a clear anthropogenic effect. The UN’s IPCC have taken a consensus overview of the work being done in a very wide range of fields. Their third assessment report, issued just three years ago, estimated that average temperatures would rise another 1.4-5.8°C between 1990 and 2100. That range looks very uncertain, but about half the uncertainty is in the human response: we can still limit the maximum rise to around 2.5°C if we get our act together. However, global warming will continue for centuries, no matter how quickly we reduce emissions.

Problems with CO2 and temperature are be expected, and the details will be debated and cross-checked for many years to come. However, the data is already good enough to identify minor effects. One such effect was a mysterious warming and cooling over a 1000 year cycle, traceable over 10,000 years. It turned out to be the moon, changing its orbit and hence the strength of the tides and the extent of vertical mixing of the ocean. Higher tides create more mixing, bring up more cold water and cool the atmosphere.

Of course, it is possible that new evidence will show that global warming will soon go away — good science has to be falsifiable. But the evidence produced by Kennedy is not it, and the precautionary principle tells us not to put our shirts on him. There is now enough evidence to allow a great deal of cross-checking: the Greenland ice cores tell the same story as the Atlantic silt cores; the effects of varying solar radiation and changes in the earth’s and moon’s orbits have been factored in; the cooling caused by the Mt Pinatubo eruption improved understanding of some minor effects; and so on. And on.

With so much evidence already gathered, it is not enough for the global warming contrarians to point to isolated studies; that is like pointing to a back eddy as evidence that the stream is flowing uphill. If there is a serious case against global warming let us hear it — but it will need to be good.

Kerry Wood, Wanganui

Science and Morality

Bruce Taylor is a high priest of the anti-human, anti-science, anti-Darwinist religion of Environmentalism. He has no use for science unless it can be used to support his dogmatic opinions and the “policies” based on them.

On the other hand he is much more tolerant of religion, myth, prejudice, suspicion, custom, fantasy, and old wives’ tales.

Alan Hart is quite wrong to claim that “science doesn’t necessarily say anything about moral values”. Moral values, which may be defined as the rules which govern societies, are essential for evolutionary survival and progress of every society.

Most societies possess rigidly tyrannical “moral values” .We are, each of us, a society composed of genetically and chemically controlled specialised cells, each derived from a single embryo, only one kind of which participates in reproduction. Any dissident cell becomes a cancer and causes death of the whole organism.

Ants, bees, and termites, are also genetically and chemically controlled fascist dictatorships, and their evolutionary success depends on it. Most animal societies such as monkeys and seals have equally ruthless “moral values”.

Early human societies had similar “moral values” to monkeys, and some, such as approval of murder, rape and slavery, survive today in primitive tribes. “Moral values” of human societies have included wholesale genocide, the burning of heretics and witches, slavery and cannibalism. Torture and slavery are common today, and even genocide is a “moral value” recently practised in several societies.

Progress of human society depends on an improved emphasis on human moral values and a priority for human rights, a reduction of war, violence, hunger, disease, prejudice, suspicion and irrationalism, and a continued advance of science and technology.

Environmentalism is opposed to human “moral values” because it

  • Regards animals and other organisms as more important than humans.
  • Considers evolution to be always harmful, exclusively caused by humans, and capable of being prevented.
  • Fundamentally opposes modern technology, such as genetic engineering and nuclear energy.
  • Regards science only as a support mechanism for these views.

Our society cannot progress unless we can restore genuine human moral values.

Vincent Gray, Wellington

Socialism and Starvation

So, I again find myself in an argument with Jim Ring. I think I preferred it when we were all united against the purveyors of quack medicines and fundamentalist religions.

Jim Ring rightly claims that few people have read the literature on famine. I’m not surprised, it is vast. But I can quote 33 peer reviewed works on the subject, ranging from some by a Nobel laureate economist, to Cambridge historians. When I did a quick Google on those sources that Ring provided for his evidence I found for one no match, and for the other an ideologically driven American so-called think tank. I must admit that I have read nothing of this type of literature, but then neither do I read the stuff by UFO “researchers”.

Ring is right about one thing, his original letter confused me. If the Oxus Research foundation, whoever they are, suggest you can use the words socialism and starvation without further clarification, they are wrong. It is necessary to know what is meant by socialism because definitions depend more on one’s own position on the political spectrum than any objective criteria. I also think it’s necessary to know what Ring meant by people starved under socialism, because by itself it’s a meaningless statement which requires the qualification that people have also starved under capitalism, feudalism and any other -ism you care to name. Although to be honest I could probably make out quite a good case for no famines in Germany under Nazism — does this make them good?

Famine, or starvation if Ring insists on the word, occurs for any number of reasons rather than simple socialism — or capitalism for that matter. Again Ring has jumped into an area where he is out of his depth, to make a political point. For every famine he can quote me under a Socialist government I can quote him at least one under a capitalist regime. The Indian state with the highest literacy rate and life expectancy has been run by socialists in various coalitions for years. Ring is oversimplifying to make a political point.

Ring also makes generalisations about the anti-globalisation movement. As far as I can see they are not some sort of monolithic anti-capitalist group but consist of a number of quite disparate groupings including trade unions in developed countries who resent exporting jobs, and farmers’ groups in underdeveloped countries who quite like globalisation but resent the fact that the developed countries such as the United States and the European Union don’t apply it to themselves.

I also think that Ring has misunderstood the term green revolution. Perhaps he is confusing it with more recent genetic modification of crops. I can’t see why the green revolution, which largely consisted of improvements in irrigation, fertilization and the development of new strains of rice, should be against socialist principles. For one thing some of the new strains of rice were developed in government laboratories in India under so-called socialist governments. And if the idea was against socialist principles why did Stalin spend so long trying to create a green revolution of his own? In fact many of the new strains of rice were rejected by the very people they were meant to benefit, because they require large amounts of fertiliser and extra water which they could not afford. The earlier strains also tasted bad and were therefore rejected by the market.

I stand by my statement that Ring provides little other than glib generalisations and inaccurate case studies. One thing I have found by reading articles from the new right is that they tend to leave out economic case studies that don’t fit the ideological bent. I think Ring does the same. However I will make this offer — I don’t think that the pages of the New Zealand Skeptic the correct forum for publishing political tracts, so if he gives up writing them I’ll give up criticising them.

Bob Metcalfe

Yes, enough politics already! This correspondence is now closed -ed.


Dr. Welch’s Hokum Locum column in NZ Skeptic 69 contains the words “pseudoscience known as kinesiology”. This is incorrect. Kinesiology is a respected, science-based, study of human movement dynamics. Several universities offer degrees in this field — eg University of Waterloo, in Canada. See Perhaps Dr. Welch is thinking of “Applied Kinesiology” which is indeed crackpot stuff.

Vaso Bovan, P.E., Canada

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