Daily Archives: August 27, 2011

Climate change – don’t panic, it was the Sun after all

Image courtesy of CERN, http://cdsweb.cern.ch/record/1221293

Pictured: Jasper Kirkby with his CLOUD chamber

Links to original sources announcing results:

CERN Press release http://press.web.cern.ch/press/PressReleases/Releases2011/PR15.11E.html

letter to Nature: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v476/n7361/full/nature10343.html

Congratulations to Jasper Kirkby and his team at CERN. A great day for science I think. The long-awaited results from Kirkby’s CLOUD experiment have come out, and say pretty much what he thought they would regarding the potential for cosmic rays to cause cloud seeding, but with more questions coming out, as they should when science has been done properly. The experiment also showed that the combinations of gases expected to be causing clouds at low atmosphere can’t, not even with cosmic ray help. So another science hurdle has fallen. We know a bit more about our world, but we also know a little more about what we don’t know. So now they have more questions to answer, and no doubt answering those will reveal yet more questions.

This stands in stark contrast to those who use the phrase ‘the science is now settled’. It wasn’t, still isn’t, and it won’t be any time soon. Physics is far from finished, so is chemistry and biology and every other branch of science.

The results of this experiment are politically very important. Governments, especially our own in the UK, have already sunk vast amounts of taxpayer cash into programmes based on the idea that humans are the main cause of global warming, now renamed as climate change, since the warming stopped in 1998. Carbon dioxide is known to be a greenhouse gas, with higher concentrations of it in the atmosphere leading to more of the sun’s heat being trapped. No-one disputes that, but heavily in dispute was how much of the climate change we see was due to human-generated CO2, how much from natural CO2 generation, and more importantly, from non-CO2-related causes, such as black carbon, CFCs, cosmic rays, sunspots, volcanoes, natural ocean cycles and so on. The list of contributors is long.

Kirkby showed several years ago that there was a high historic correlation between solar activity such as sunspots, incoming cosmic radiation flux and temperature here on earth. Long before people made any impact, climate was varying all the time, in high correlation with incoming radiation, and of course it still is. Any human contribution is on top of that natural source. Many climate scientists have steadfastly refused to accept this as a significant potential cause of warming, and so didn’t include sunspot activity cycles in their models. Some of the worse ones appear to have manipulated data to try to erase evidence of the effect. Arguments raged about sources of warming, whether, it was the sun, natural ocean cycles, or man-made CO2.

Climate science had become highly polarised, with a small group of scientists who huddled in the corner insisting that they are the only true climate scientists,and managed to gain control over official channels of climate science. Everyone else was pushed outside, denied any significant voice in climate journals because they are not one of the true believers, and somehow weren’t a ‘proper climate scientist’. But fortunately science doesn’t work like that for any length of time. True science always ends up winning. Political spin can only be sustained for so long.

The CLOUD experiment set out to answer the main question, the denial of which was the main pillar of the climate science AGW religion. Could cosmic rays be a significant factor in cloud formation? If the answer was no, then the CO2 advocates would be able to push their CO2-centric view much more strongly, since the cosmic ray effect was one of the main pillars of the opposing view. And of course if the answer is yes, then the climate models will need a great deal of change before they can be considered representative of the real world, as the sceptics had argued all along.

None of this suggests that CO2 doesn’t matter. What it does say with certainty is that CO2 is far less significant than had been stated by climate scientists, and by deduction, we need to worry far less about its increasing. Fantastic news. We will not be doomed by CO2 production after all. The changes in climate that we have seen are probably mainly down to solar activity after all, and we can’t do much about that except learn to live with what it throws at us.

Other research recently also backs up that view. More radiation escapes into space from the atmosphere than previously thought. Black carbon is a bigger factor than thought. The CO2 gearing is lower than thought. Soil chemistry is poorly understood. Ocean currents and cycles need a lot more study. Now we also know that some of the assumed chemistry in the lower atmosphere is wrong too.

Kirkby and his team have done a great job of pushing science forward in spite of significant adversity from political interference and the influence of corrupted science elsewhere.

Corruption never disappears overnight. The momentum of the CO2-centric view is enormous, and mere truth will only slow it down gradually. But truth is persistent. If we fight it, it won’t go away. The earth, and all the rest of the universe, cares nothing for political views or corruption. Physics is just there, and all we can do is work out how it works. As Star Trek’s Scotty famously observed ‘ye cannay change the laws of physics captain’.

What we should do as fast as we can is to stop throwing taxpayer money down the drain on account of disproven theories, and immediately to change any government policy based on carbon reduction.

As for science, we should accept the results from CERN, and their Danish adversaries in the spring, and move on. We should force those climate models with any significant influence to be changed to include the proven results of the studies of the last few years, to change their parameters and equations accordingly, and to model the whole system as far as science permits, not just those bits they are fond of.

If we understand out environment better, we can protect it better, and protect out own interests better too. Bad science leads always to bad policy. Only by pursuing the truth can we prosper in the long term. A few careers and bad apples might suffer, but the rest of us will be far better off.

I find this personally very reassuring. I have struggled for several years trying to understand climate science a bit, following the arguments on both sides, trying desperately to sort out what is obviously spin and lies from what seems to be good science – on both sides. My brain isn’t big enough, and I forget stuff quickly, so can’t really keep track of it. But over time, I was moving further and further from sitting on the fence, as it became obvious that most of the deviousness seemed to be on the CO2 driven side. The maximum contribution that CO2 could be making to climate change has gradually reduced as study after study suggested other factors that must account for at least some of the change. I don’t think I am really in any position to list the current percentage contributions from all the factors, but I reckon that CO2 accounts for maybe 10% of the change, maximum 15% now. But that is just a guess.

The big factor missing in my own belief set was the importance of cosmic radiation. I watched Kirkby’s lecture some years back and I found it convincing, but we have to do the science, and until we have, it is only guesswork. Now, he has. We have the result.

I no longer believe that CO2 is a major factor in climate change. I have been a sceptic for a good while, while trying hard to retain balance while waiting for Kirkby to finish. I am now very happy that his case is proven that it is the sun and not CO2 that causes most of our climate change. CO2 is at most a minor contributor and we can sleep easy while continuing to produce more of it. How much more before we can start worrying we need to look at further, but any reason for panic has gone.

Interesting additional blog commentary:




Science teaching

If I have learned anything over my years of lecturing it is that teachers don’t like being told they are doing it wrong. And certainly not when they know you are right. Google’s chief is making headlines today doing just that, http://goo.gl/bF62s. Good luck to him, he is saying what a lot of us have before, but he might just have the clout to have an effect.

However, I suspect he is probably too late. Even if notice is taken, by the time the school system changes and universities rippled through the new students resulting from it, the world will have moved on a lot, and much new science and technology will be done by smart machines. I’m afraid that he is right, but the damage is already done, and it is just too late to recover now, unless AI moves on slower than expected.