Intelligent Design

Why skepticism needs to apply to science as much as to religion

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EXCERPT: Among experts who actually examine the causes of change on a global scale, many concentrate their research on designing and enhancing computer models of hypothetical futures. “These models have been consistently wrong in all their scenarios,” asserts Ball. “Since modelers concede computer outputs are not “predictions” but are in fact merely scenarios, they are negligent in letting policy-makers and the public think they are actually making forecasts.”

Scientists respond to Gore’s warnings of climate catastrophe
“The Inconvenient Truth” is indeed inconvenient to alarmists
By Tom Harris

“Scientists have an independent obligation to respect and present the truth as they see it,” Al Gore sensibly asserts in his film “An Inconvenient Truth”, showing at Cumberland 4 Cinemas in Toronto since Jun 2. With that outlook in mind, what do world climate experts actually think about the science of his movie?

Professor Bob Carter of the Marine Geophysical Laboratory at James Cook University, in Australia gives what, for many Canadians, is a surprising assessment: “Gore’s circumstantial arguments are so weak that they are pathetic. It is simply incredible that they, and his film, are commanding public attention.”

But surely Carter is merely part of what most people regard as a tiny cadre of “climate change skeptics” who disagree with the “vast majority of scientists” Gore cites?

No; Carter is one of hundreds of highly qualified non-governmental, non-industry, non-lobby group climate experts who contest the hypothesis that human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are causing significant global climate change. “Climate experts” is the operative term here. Why? Because what Gore’s “majority of scientists” think is immaterial when only a very small fraction of them actually work in the climate field.

Even among that fraction, many focus their studies on the impacts of climate change; biologists, for example, who study everything from insects to polar bears to poison ivy. “While many are highly skilled researchers, they generally do not have special knowledge about the causes of global climate change,” explains former University of Winnipeg climatology professor Dr. Tim Ball. “They usually can tell us only about the effects of changes in the local environment where they conduct their studies.”

This is highly valuable knowledge, but doesn’t make them climate change cause experts, only climate impact experts.

So we have a smaller fraction.

But it becomes smaller still. Among experts who actually examine the causes of change on a global scale, many concentrate their research on designing and enhancing computer models of hypothetical futures. “These models have been consistently wrong in all their scenarios,” asserts Ball. “Since modelers concede computer outputs are not “predictions” but are in fact merely scenarios, they are negligent in letting policy-makers and the public think they are actually making forecasts.”

We should listen most to scientists who use real data to try to understand what nature is actually telling us about the causes and extent of global climate change. In this relatively small community, there is no consensus, despite what Gore and others would suggest.

Here is a small sample of the side of the debate we almost never hear:

Appearing before the Commons Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development last year, Carleton University paleoclimatologist Professor Tim Patterson testified, “There is no meaningful correlation between CO2 levels and Earth’s temperature over this [geologic] time frame. In fact, when CO2 levels were over ten times higher than they are now, about 450 million years ago, the planet was in the depths of the absolute coldest period in the last half billion years.” Patterson asked the committee, “On the basis of this evidence, how could anyone still believe that the recent relatively small increase in CO2 levels would be the major cause of the past century’s modest warming?”

Patterson concluded his testimony by explaining what his research and “hundreds of other studies” reveal: on all time scales, there is very good correlation between Earth’s temperature and natural celestial phenomena such changes in the brightness of the Sun.

Dr. Boris Winterhalter, former marine researcher at the Geological Survey of Finland and professor in marine geology, University of Helsinki, takes apart Gore’s dramatic display of Antarctic glaciers collapsing into the sea. “The breaking glacier wall is a normally occurring phenomenon which is due to the normal advance of a glacier,” says Winterhalter. “In Antarctica the temperature is low enough to prohibit melting of the ice front, so if the ice is grounded, it has to break off in beautiful ice cascades. If the water is deep enough icebergs will form.”

Dr. Wibjörn Karlén, emeritus professor, Dept. of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm University, Sweden, admits, “Some small areas in the Antarctic Peninsula have broken up recently, just like it has done back in time. The temperature in this part of Antarctica has increased recently, probably because of a small change in the position of the low pressure systems.”

But Karlén clarifies that the ‘mass balance’ of Antarctica is positive – more snow is accumulating than melting off. As a result, Ball explains, there is an increase in the ‘calving’ of icebergs as the ice dome of Antarctica is growing and flowing to the oceans. When Greenland and Antarctica are assessed together, “their mass balance is considered to possibly increase the sea level by 0.03 mm/year – not much of an effect,” Karlén concludes.

The Antarctica has survived warm and cold events over millions of years. A meltdown is simply not a realistic scenario in the foreseeable future.

Gore tells us in the film, “Starting in 1970, there was a precipitous drop-off in the amount and extent and thickness of the Arctic ice cap.” This is misleading, according to Ball: “The survey that Gore cites was a single transect across one part of the Arctic basin in the month of October during the 1960s when we were in the middle of the cooling period. The 1990 runs were done in the warmer month of September, using a wholly different technology.”

Karlén explains that a paper published in 2003 by University of Alaska professor Igor Polyakov shows that, the region of the Arctic where rising temperature is supposedly endangering polar bears showed fluctuations since 1940 but no overall temperature rise. “For several published records it is a decrease for the last 50 years,” says Karlén

Dr. Dick Morgan, former advisor to the World Meteorological Organization and climatology researcher at University of Exeter, U.K. gives the details, “There has been some decrease in ice thickness in the Canadian Arctic over the past 30 years but no melt down. The Canadian Ice Service records show that from 1971-1981 there was average, to above average, ice thickness. From 1981-1982 there was a sharp decrease of 15% but there was a quick recovery to average, to slightly above average, values from 1983-1995. A sharp drop of 30% occurred again 1996-1998 and since then there has been a steady increase to reach near normal conditions since 2001.”

Concerning Gore’s beliefs about worldwide warming, Morgan points out that, in addition to the cooling in the NW Atlantic, massive areas of cooling are found in the North and South Pacific Ocean; the whole of the Amazon Valley; the north coast of South America and the Caribbean; the eastern Mediterranean, Black Sea, Caucasus and Red Sea; New Zealand and even the Ganges Valley in India. Morgan explains, “Had the IPCC used the standard parameter for climate change (the 30 year average) and used an equal area projection, instead of the Mercator (which doubled the area of warming in Alaska, Siberia and the Antarctic Ocean) warming and cooling would have been almost in balance.”

Gore’s point that 200 cities and towns in the American West set all time high temperature records is also misleading according to Dr. Roy Spencer, Principal Research Scientist at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. “It is not unusual for some locations, out of the thousands of cities and towns in the U.S., to set all-time records,” he says. “The actual data shows that overall, recent temperatures in the U.S. were not unusual.”

Carter does not pull his punches about Gore’s activism, “The man is an embarrassment to US science and its many fine practitioners, a lot of whom know (but feel unable to state publicly) that his propaganda crusade is mostly based on junk science.”

In April sixty of the world’s leading experts in the field asked Prime Minister Harper to order a thorough public review of the science of climate change, something that has never happened in Canada. Considering what’s at stake – either the end of civilization, if you believe Gore, or a waste of billions of dollars, if you believe his opponents – it seems like a reasonable request.

Tom Harris is mechanical engineer and Ottawa Director of High Park Group, a public affairs and public policy company. He can be reached at

9 Replies to “Why skepticism needs to apply to science as much as to religion

  1. 1
    apollo230 says:

    How much skepticism should we apply to the issue of global warming? Preciously little.

    There are those who want to disregard global warming altogether, flaunt the Kyoto protocols, and send the USA on its merry way: to more (and unsustainable) gluttony and unmanaged economic growth.

    The best attitude to adopt towards global warming is: “Better Safe Than Sorry”. Limit CO2 emissions, and responsibly manage resource consumption in general, or this species will go down the toilet.

  2. 2
    tinabrewer says:

    On the one hand, I think skepticism about global warming being caused by human activity alone is warranted. On the other hand, who can sincerely argue that limiting the amount of polluting we do is not a worthy and admirable goal, for a number of reasons? I think there are many whos “skepticism” about global warming is merely a front which allows them to feel comfortable while avoiding some of the harsh truths about the disparities in consumption between the developed world and the rest of humanity.

    Curing cancer and eliminating extreme poverty are worthy goals too. It all costs money including reducing human generated greenhouse gases. The problem with throwing money at global warming is no one has any idea what is being purchased. Is it really a problem? Will it stop? How much reduction is enough? Would it be less expensive to address the consequences of global warming as they emerge (if they emerge) rather than try to prevent it? What saves more lives – spending a dollar on better sanitaton in the third world or spending a dollar to reduce greenhouse gas emission in industrialized countries? Until a reasonably reliable cost/benefit analysis is done for global warming money is better spent where you know what you’re getting in return. -ds

  3. 3
    bFast says:

    As far as I am concerned, the issue is the cost of error. An erronious belief that human activity causes global warmin would give us a nicer, cleaner planet to live on, and an eronious believe that global warming is not caused by human activity could be fatal — or worse. Therefore, in my estimation the burden of proof falls squarely on the sholders of those who claim that global warming is not caused by human activity.

  4. 4
    SCheesman says:

    tinabrewer: “…On the other hand, who can sincerely argue that limiting the amount of polluting we do is not a worthy and admirable goal, for a number of reasons?”

    I don’t think many of us are against reduction in current practices that cause “pollution”, and that would include replacing older coal-burning technologies, the end to the destruction of rain-forests in South America to clear for short-term farming (because the soil depletes so quicky), or the continued drive for cleaner emissions from automobiles, manufacturing processes etc. But these worthy goals are at best tangential to the controlling of CO2 levels. I don’t think CO2 fits into the traditional lists of pollutants.

  5. 5
    tinabrewer says:

    SCheesman: I apologize for using the word “pollutant” too loosely. On the other hand, it is clearly true that a certain vocal percentage of people (perhaps not here) oppose most attempts to improve the quality of the air and water if it costs too much in either dollars or lifestyle choices. It cannot be a mere coincidence that in this era, in which oil dependence is widely recognized as being an environmental and political liability, American car manufacturers have produced the most gas-guzzling monsters in modern history, and are selling them like hotcakes.

    I am personally not convinced at all that global warming is the result of human activity alone. I get myself in lots of deep water over this one. Nevertheless, I also firmly believe in environmental stewardship, and think that the West would profit tremendously from a modest simplification of material culture as a natural cost of sustainable activity. Material culture is not the only part, and certainly not the most important part, of a ‘civilized’ life.

  6. 6
    glennj says:

    How many megawatts of energy does the sun discharge?
    How tiny of a fluctuation of the sun’s discharge would increase the earth’s temperature by 1C?
    With global warming having been measured on Mars and Earth alike, the cause of the warming simply cannot be human related.

  7. 7
    ftrp11 says:

    I think everone understands that there are natural warming mechanisms, but just because there are natural ones does not mean that there cannot be artificial mechanisms as well. I would not claim that humans are significantly warming the planet, but I cannot say that we are not for sure. At any rate I agree with DS and find many other, better uses for our limited financial resources.

  8. 8
    Rude says:

    Surely no responsible person can argue with responsibily managing resource consumption. But as for global warming—the folks here (near Hells Canyon) tell me how ferocious the winters used to be—most appreciate the warming trend. Also when one drives along a wilderness road, why is it that there’s always so much more vegetation along the road. I’m told it’s the CO2. If we’re truly to green the world we need more CO2 in the atmosphere. The rain forest is a steady state affair—as much CO2 is released as taken in. What we need are more forests, more vegetation, more population, more flesh. If the biomass of the planet is to increase we need that CO2. Sometimes I joke with my supremely concerned elite friends: Don’t knock the overweight masses. They’re just doing their part to stave off global warming.

    OK, it’s a serious subject. But I don’t make public policy. However I do see all those nihilistic casualties of the Sixties: Darwinism is a fact, therefore why give a damn if this species goes down the toilet. What’s the diff, so many say. I won’t be here, and I won’t be there either.

    That’s why we need to know more. A lot of global warming effects will be welcome. Who doesn’t want wheat and corn growing in Alaska and Siberia while bananas and oranges thrive in North Dakota? Flooding of coastal cities due to melting of glaciers and rise of ocean level is the main concern. But what’s the cost of moving away from the shoreline or building levees and how much time do we have to do it? If migrating away from the shore can be done over 1000 years then it’s a task whose cost can be ammortized into annual payments of next to nothing. This must be contrasted against the cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions not to mention finding a way to enforce the measures around the world. And we have to have a real good idea of how much reduction in gas emission will slow global warming. Right now we don’t know if it would have any effect at all. The earth periodically goes through hot and cold cycles and has been doing it long before humans came on the scene. -ds

  9. 9
    bFast says:

    DS, I’m all for studying the problem, don’t get me wrong. However, we have a simple choice. There is evidence which suggests to many that our CO2 usage is going to change things a lot. Lets look at our options:
    A1 – The changes are caused by our CO2 usage or
    A2 – The changes are not caused by our CO2 usage.

    B1 – The changes are going to be mostly undesireable
    B2 – The changes are going to be mostly desireable.

    If A2 is correct, affacting our CO2 usage won’t change anything.

    What if A1 is correct.
    Then if B2 is correct, let’s burn fossil fuels as fast as we can!
    Hmmm, random muations are mostly positive, right?

    If A1 and B1 are both correct, however, we might want to get on with doing something about it BEFORE all of the data is in.

    If A1 and B1 are correct, one of two things is going to happen:
    1 – We will do something about it before it is too late, and doing something about it will be exhilirating.
    2 – We will figure out that it is too late, and go into a panic!

    I don’t believe that mutations are mostly beneficial. I am all for playing cautious, and doing something about CO2 before it becomes a crisis.

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