Global Warming: A Role for the Sun


by Tom Bethell


(The American Spectator, May 2007)



I know you donít want to read another article about global warming. But bear with me, even though the last time I wrote about it, in March 2005, I made a bad prediction. The scaremongers would soon fade away, I said, because their underlying political agenda had already been exposed. If they were to stay in business they would have to cook up another crisis.


Wrong! Since then we have had Al Gore, Hollywood, and the news media piling on. Lots of politicians have decided to appease the greens, notably California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. So I'm filled with a sense of futility as I return to this subject.


Let me start with a basic question: Is global warming in fact occurring? A headline from the journal Astronomy, published in January 2006, suggests that the answer may be yes. But it also sets us on a new path:


Martian Polar Ice Caps Melting


"Mesas of dry ice at the Martian south pole have been retreating by about 10 feet per Mars year since Mars Global Surveyor arrived in 1999," the journal reported. The "ice," incidentally, is primarily made of the dreaded "greenhouse gas" CO2 not water.


A few years earlier, in 2001, the prestigious science journal Nature reported:


Mars Polar Ice Caps Are Slowly Melting


The spacecraft showed Martian ice caps shrinking since 1999. "The reason for this change is not

clear," Nature added. "But it means that Mars's climate may be changing."


Then Environment News said in November 2005:


Mars Is Warming, NASA Scientists Report Data Coincide with Increasing Solar Output


By way of a follow-up, here is a headline from the National Geographic News, published only a few weeks ago:


Mars Melt Hints at Solar, Not Human Cause for Warming, Scientists Say


The National Geographic itself has been among the most politically correct of all publications. The author of this story, Kate Ravilious, notes that the theory embodied in its headline is "controversial." That's true, and I'll get to the controversy in a minute.


Here's another headline, this one from a press release issued by the Keck Observatory in Hawaii (February 2005):


Saturn's Strange Hot Spot


Apparently there is a "strange thermal hot spot" located at the tip of Saturn's south pole. It's considered unusual, yet "we've been seeing hints of it in our data for at least two years," according to a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.


I'm afraid this whole approach to global warming is going to make Al Gore, NASA's James Hansen, and D.C. San Diego's crusading professor Naomi Oreskes mad, so I had better hurry on. Here's the headline to a 1998 news release from MIT:


MIT Researcher Finds Evidence of Global Warming on Neptune's Largest Moon


The Voyager space probe flew by Neptune in 1989 and recorded the details. Within a decade the Hubble Space Telescope had detected changes. There had been a "warming trend," and it was causing "parts of Triton's surface of frozen nitrogen to turn into gas." Triton is Neptune's largest moon.


Next we come to Pluto - and I swear I'm not making any of this up. published an article in October 2002 with the headline:


Global Warming on Pluto Puzzles Scientists


"Astronomers today said Pluto is undergoing global warming in its thin atmosphere even as it moves further away from the sun on its long, oddshaped orbit." Scientists suspect the surface temperature may have "increased about 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit." They think the warming began years earlier when the planet (if that is what it is) was closer to the sun.


Oops, I almost forgot the big one. Here is a headline from USA Today, published barely a year ago (May 2006):


New Storm on Jupiter Hints at Climate Change


"The latest images could provide evidence that Jupiter is in the midst of a global change that can modify temperatures by as much as ten degrees Fahrenheit on different parts of the globe," the story said. One astronomer observing Jupiter said the storm is "growing in altitude," and this in turn "signals a temperature increase in that region."


Sorry, but I have been unable to find any claims that global warming is occurring on Uranus. And there are reports that warming is not occurring on Venus. But it's already dreadfully hot - maybe 400 degrees centigrade - so maybe it decided it was warm enough to please Al Gore.


These reports have a certain consistency, no? Any suggestions as to a common cause? In 2004 the Daily Telegraph came up with one. Maybe it already crossed your mind:


The Truth About Global Warming: It's the Sun That's to Blame


That at least was the opinion of Dr. Sami Solanki, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany. But Dr. Gareth Jones of the Met Office in London thought that attributing everything to the Sun was "inconclusive." Greenhouse gases, sulphate aerosols, and volcanic activity should also be taken into account. (Hold that thought.)


As for Mars, the head of space research at St. Petersburg's Pulkovia Astronomical Observatory in Russia also thinks that the Sun is the key. "The longterm increase in solar irradiance is heating both Earth and Mars," he said.


But this is hotly disputed by Oxford's Colin Wilson, who says the Russian view is "completely at odds with the mainstream scientific opinion." This holds that the Martian melt can be explained by shifts in the planet's orbit and tilt. Wobbles in its axial tilt are thought to be the main cause of the Martian climate change.


At a conference recently, I encountered the MIT climatologist Willie Soon, a global-warming skeptic. When I asked him about Mars, he said the problem is that the shrinking ice caps have not been observed for long enough - only since 1999 - to say for sure what is the cause. MIT's Richard Lindzen, another skeptic, said much the same thing in an e-mail.


I accept their reservations, but of course the global warming on Earth that has us all in a tizzy hasn't been observed for very long either: only since 1978. Before that global cooling was the alarm du jour (a much more serious problem, if it had turned out to be real). Anyway, we can be fairly sure that oil companies are not to blame for the Martian warming, which, I suspect, is why the warmists overlook this side of the story.


In March, an independent company in Britain called Channel 4 broadcast a remarkable TV documentary called The Great Global Warming Swindle. It argued that rises in atmospheric carbon dioxide have nothing to do with climate change, and that temperature changes over the last several hundred years correlate nicely with solar activity. Working to reduce carbon emissions will do nothing to temperatures, therefore, but it will certainly stifle economic development in the Third World and prolong poverty and disease.


It gathered together the views of a wide range of scientists who are thoroughly skeptical about man-made global warming. I should have thought it impossible to have watched the program without being converted to an agnostic position. Two of those dissenting scientists gave talks in Washington recently, and I went to hear them both. One was a climatologist now retired from the University of Winnipeg, Timothy Ball. The other was an old friend, S. Fred Singer, an emeritus professor of environmental science at the University of Virginia, who spoke at the American University. Recently, with Dennis T. Avery, he wrote a book called Unstoppable Global Warming, Every 1500 Years.


As to the sun, Singer and Avery point out that until the age of satellites, in the late 1970s, "we didn't even know that tiny cycles of variation in the sun's irradiance existed. Until recently, scientists spoke of the 'solar constant.''' Yet an aide to Al Gore claims that the sun has no influence on climate change. Only very recently are we beginning to understand that small changes in the sun's output make a big difference in the earth's climate. The changes in Andean glaciers that so disturb Gore have recently been linked to solar cycles.


Ball said that he expects the Earth to be quite a bit cooler by 2030 because of an emerging solar cycle. The Earth's orbit around the sun is also cyclical, he said, shifting from an extreme ellipse 22,000 years ago to a near circular orbit today. But I want to focus on just one point that he made. It's a bit of a mouthful, but it helps explain what has been going on: "Climatology is a generalist discipline in an age of specialists."


Weathermen notoriously don't know if it will rain or shine a week hence because there are so many variables to consider and no one really knows how they will interact. This is even more true of the climate, long range. You have to know about oceans, about the atmosphere, about the physics of clouds, about dust particles, about volcanoes, about solar activity, about the relationship between the sun and the earth, and more.


To know anything about the climate hundreds or thousands of years ago, when no formal temperature records were kept, you have to learn to interpret ice cores, tree rings, fossilized critters, biogeography, and more.


The need for expertise in so many fields explains why there are "few trained climatologists," Dr. Ball said. No honest climatologist, if asked to predict climate change a few decades out, can respond with anything other than uncertainty. Even the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said as recently as 2001 that of the 12 key factors it identified as influencing climate, the level of scientific understanding of seven of them was ''very low."


IN this climate of uncertainty the computer modelers and their politicized allies have seized the day. They plug in their own guesses, and make confident predictions. Politics comes to our doorstep disguised as mathematics. NASA's media darling and warming advocate James Hansen claims martyr status for having been silenced yet has given 1,400 interviews to the press.


A new book, Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can't Predict the Future, notes the failure of mathematical models to predict changes in coastal geology. The modelers too freely apply fixed values to quantities that vary all the time, the authors say. If they didn't, their equations would become excessively complex. They wouldn't be able to predict much of anything, and they wouldn't attract media attention.


The real forerunner to the present global warming scare is the Club of Rome's utterly misguided Limits to Growth (1972), which sold millions of copies and predicted the exhaustion of the world's supply of raw materials by the 1980s. Malthusian ideology was dressed up as science and everything was mathematically modeled to a fare-thee-well. It was as irresponsible as it was fashionable and its lead author, Donella Meadows, received almost as many awards as the similarly wrong-headed Paul Ehrlich. Both the limits-to-growth and the global-warming scares embody the same idea: disapproval of the use of the world's resources and the use of "science" to discourage same.


In his talk at American University, Fred Singer drew attention to one of the most unfair developments of recent years: the unjust demonization of global warming skeptics as the tools of oil companies. What we never hear about are the vast government expenditures on climate research - $2 billion a year, adding up to $16 billion over the last decade. This dwarfs the pittances that oil companies may occasionally donate to think tanks. The untold story is that academics seeking grants find that alarmism pays, as it also does for reporters ambitious for page one stories. As MIT's Richard Lindzen says: "Alarm rather than genuine scientific curiosity, it appears, is essential to maintaining funding. Only the most senior scientists today can stand up against this alarmist gale, and defy the iron triangle of climate scientists, advocates, and policymakers."