Climate Change Confusion: What Are We to Think?

April 19, 2019 Updated: April 19, 2019


The climate wars are an international disgrace. For a half-century, the public has suffered a bombardment of disputed facts about “anthropogenic global warming” (AGW) as well as so much undignified smearing of the work and reputations of skeptics by alarmists, and vice versa, that it’s hard for anyone concerned about our beautiful planet to know what to think.

So I decided to look into the situation for myself.

I started by examining a temperature graph of a drill-core taken through deep sediments that make up the seafloor. And what did I see? Right before my eyes, were continuous, and sometimes extreme, climate fluctuations, from hot to cold and back again, non-stop, for two million years. Two million years! That was a shock. And it got me asking a lot of questions.

Is Earth Warming or Cooling?

The weak consensus—also disputed—seems to be that we’ve had both warming and cooling recently, and if we can be confident in climate measurements (which, as I shall suggest below, there is plenty of reason to doubt) we may, on balance, have warmed a little—less than 1 degree Celsius—during the last 100 years. Should we be alarmed by this, or impressed by the extraordinary stability of climate on a planet this size?

Half of that warming occurred between 1910 and 1940, prior to any serious fossil fuel emissions, and no climate model can explain the reason(s) for that. Then there was a cooling from 1950 to 1970 during the post-war industrial boom, just when (if the theory is correct) there ought to have been lots of AGW. After that, a report was issued by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences warning that “we may be approaching the end of a major interglacial cycle, with the approach of a full-blown 10,000-year ice age a real possibility,” according to the March 1, 1975, issue of Science News. Then, we (maybe) had an unexplained no-change “hiatus” from about 1998 to 2013, even though CO2 levels rose.

By now, like so many watching and wondering about all this, I’m feeling a little jerked around. And here’s another reason: Prominent alarmist scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, a U.N.-sponsored agency) have been warning us for three decades that we are experiencing catastrophic global warming, with attendant sea-level rise, floods, fires, and hurricanes.

But there’s energetic disagreement from a large group of prominent scientists, which can be seen in their report of 2016, “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming,” published by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC).

Their argument is that any modern warming is natural and in line with historical variability; that increases in CO2 have followed increases in temperature, not the reverse; that solar effects may be equal to or greater than effects of CO2; and that a warming even of 2 degrees Celsius or more wouldn’t be harmful.

What Is Future of the Planet?

No one knows the future. Climate scientists in the NIPCC report, above, tell us that “over recent geological time, Earth’s temperature has fluctuated naturally between about 4 Celsius and minus 6 Celsius with respect to twentieth-century temperature.” But we do know the past: The last 2 million years saw a pendulum-like oscillation between cold glacial periods of some 90,000 years each, with warm interglacial periods—we are nearing the end of one now—each lasting about 15,000 years.

For all that time, our planet was 90 percent cold, with brief stretches of warmth. A reasonable person might think we could use a little warming.

What Are Greenhouse Gases?

This term is used to create the impression that humans are massively fouling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide (CO2) from the burning of fossil fuels that create a “greenhouse” on Earth, which traps heat that would otherwise escape into the upper atmosphere (which, confusingly, satellite reports tell us has been cooling recently).

But I was surprised to learn that Earth’s greenhouse layer (without which we would sizzle to a cinder by day, and freeze solid by night), is quite natural, and is almost entirely created by natural water vapor and clouds. Of all atmospheric gases, CO2 makes up only 0.04 percent, and anthropogenic CO2 makes up only 3.4 percent of that figure: which is to say, 3.4 percent of 0.04 percent—a minuscule percentage.

When measured directly, the quantity of natural CO2 on Earth is expressed in parts per million (ppm) of all atmospheric gases, and it has also fluctuated a lot. About the time of the Industrial Revolution, prior to any AGW, there were about 280 ppm, and it has climbed very slowly since then to about 410 ppm today, which is causing a lot of alarm.

But is that warranted? The lowest number found in the geological record is about 180 ppm, and during the Cambrian period—550 million years ago—there were natural highs of more than 4,000 ppm, and higher. More confusing, however, is that here have been many long periods when temperature and the quantity of atmospheric CO2 were unrelated (or “uncoupled”), and sometimes inversely related. Many argue that Earth is presently carbon-starved.

How Is Climate Measured?

The vast oceans, deserts, ice sheets, and mountain ranges of the Earth are reservoirs of heat and cold 196,900,000 square miles in extent. Despite best efforts to get good data—mainly from American, English, and Japanese sources, altogether monitoring thousands of sites—large parts of the Arctic, Antarctic, Brazil, Africa, Siberia, and the Earth’s deserts are “data gaps.” One example will do: In 2017, the World Bank reported that more than half of Africa’s land-based stations, and 71 percent of its upper-air weather stations “do not report accurate data.”

And the Northern Hemisphere—especially the United States—is far more extensively sampled than the Southern. So what do climatologists do? In a very nonscientific move, they average the temperature of the two hemispheres. It’s a bit like saying that if the lower floor of your home is 18 C, and the upper floor is 24 C, your home has an average temperature of 21 C, when, in fact, none of it does.

A rather serious concern is that many decades ago, climatologists placed their thermometers outside urban areas. But most of those have been overtaken by urban “heat islands” that drive temperatures up unnaturally. So observations are “adjusted” to arrive at what scientists believe the temperature might have been without heat islands. But how could anyone be certain of something that wasn’t measured?

As for NASA’s reporting on climate? One insider (search for “NASA’s inconvenient ruse“) has reported thousands of pairs of “dummy” temperature records. And a German scientist has exposed more fiddling with the climate record.

One of the first-ever studies of an entire century of temperature readings reported that after adjustments for reading errors, omissions, and gaps, only 18.4 percent of Earth’s surface had actually been covered by what was published as a “global” sampling.

Are Climate Models Accurate?

Climate predictions are developed via powerful computer programs called general circulation models (GCMs) that combine all sorts of inputs from land, air, oceans, and satellites. We know that a probability model can handle two variables like cloud change and wind change quite accurately. But when more are introduced, such as water vapor, solar radiation, absorption, and reflectivity from ice and cloud cover, well, the heart sinks at the probability of miscalculation and wobbly prediction.

Accordingly, all climate models have built-in “parameters”—adjustments for so-called “feedback” mechanisms, “forcings,” and “flux tunings,” to name just a few. What will happen if we double the estimate of CO2? And so forth. But no one really knows, or could know. So at least one IPCC modeler has called such efforts “computer-aided story-telling.” Others refer to it all as “synthetic data.”

As Earth’s climate has never stopped fluctuating warm and cold, however, a reasonable question might be: Why do all climate forecasting models “run hot” instead of cold, or somewhere in between? At this point, any curious citizen would begin to suspect scientific bias and political motives.

What Is the Effect of Solar Brightness, Cosmic Radiation, and Orbital Wiggles?

Many skeptical scientists are convinced that the activity of the sun (along with other cosmic events) rather than the burning of fossil fuels, is the cause of the present warming, because the sun follows (on average) an 11-year cycle during which its brightness rises and falls according to changes in solar magnetism. Earth’s surface temperature tracks those changes very closely.

The next dimming phase is supposed to occur around 2020. So, as if on cue, NASA sent out a warning in October 2018 that we are entering what could be a long global-cooling period due to this natural fluctuation in solar brightness.

In addition to that cycle, every two centuries or so the sun’s brightness level drops significantly during what is called a “Maunder Minimum.” The first ever noticed (by a fellow named Maunder) was from 1650 to 1710, during which Europe and North America went into a deep freeze, alpine glaciers extended over valley farmland, sea ice crept south from the Arctic, and Londoners played hockey on the River Thames.

Another observation that seems to support the solar thesis is that Mars, the only other planet to reveal its climate secrets, is right now coming out of an ice age without any AGW influences.

There are also the effects of planetary wiggles to consider. Our climate is affected by the changing shape of Earth’s orbit around the sun from circular to elliptical over a 100,000-year period, by the wobble of its axis, and by the variance in equatorial and orbital planes. Taken all together, these complex motions of our planet correlate highly with ice ages on Earth.

Will There Be Global Flooding if Ice Melts at the Poles?

Spoiler alert: Thanks to Archimedes, we know that anything floating in water such as the entire Arctic ice cap, displaces its own weight. So if the entire ice cap were to melt tomorrow, it would not raise sea level one bit. Only ice sitting on land that ends up in the ocean by calving from glaciers or by melting and running into the ocean will do that.

The average annual temperature in the high Arctic is about minus 34 C, and the coldest months range from minus 35 C to minus 50 C. It’s a little hard for most people to fathom why a rise of less than 1 C averaged over the entire planet would change very much up there.

My own anecdotal evidence: Sixty-one years ago, in the summer of 1957, I worked as a cabin boy on a 10,000-ton tramp steamer delivering supplies to a couple of dozen permanent Cold War military and meteorology staff stationed at Resolute Bay in the high Arctic, about 1,000 miles from the North Pole. We arrived in open water on Aug. 18 and worked about two weeks in cool weather. In September 2018, the manager of a Canadian Arctic shipping company reported that a cargo ship was delayed unloading at Resolute because “the thickness and concentration of ice is worse than we have ever seen since we started servicing the communities [in 2008].” Climate change, indeed.

Antarctica, on the other hand, where the ice cap sits on land, is the highest and coldest continent on Earth. It’s more than 5.4 million square miles in extent with an average altitude more than 8,000 feet, has 2,660 mountains (one over 16,000 feet), and is covered with ice averaging more than 6,000 feet in thickness.

As for those massive ice sheets extending over water? The glaciological record shows there have been many retreats of the West Antarctic ice sheet that left it more than 100,000 square miles smaller than it is today. And we also know that the Eastern ice sheet has been cooling for the past half century. And really, a concerned citizen might want to know, how could a slight warming of Earth (if that is true) change much on such a massive continent where the average annual temperature is minus 50 C, and where, in 2013, the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was minus 93 C?

A Causal Connection Between Carbon Dioxide and Temperature Change?

What raises many serious questions about CO2 and global warming is the shock of learning that there have been centuries-long periods when Earth was warmer than today, such as the Minoan, Roman, and Medieval “non-greenhouse” warmings, in the complete absence of any anthropogenic CO2.

Although we know the amount of CO2 has been increasing since the Industrial Revolution, there is argument about cause and effect. Alarmists claim rising CO2 (for which they blame industrialization) causes warming, while skeptics argue that historically, rises in CO2 have followed, rather than preceded rises in global temperature, sometimes by hundreds of years.

To underscore this point, the NIPCC stated that “temperature and CO2 are uncoupled through lengthy portions of the historical and geological records; therefore CO2 cannot be the primary forcing agent for most temperature changes.”

How Do Plants Respond to CO2 Enrichment?

Although CO2 has a bad name, it is in fact a rich nutrient for all plant life on Earth, and without it this would be a dead planet.

Controlled experiments in which plants such as orange trees and wheat are force-fed CO2 at high levels of enrichment as much as triple their rates of growth. NASA satellite views show that our currently rising level of CO2 is causing a greening of the globe. There are arguments that by boosting crop yields, more CO2 would be a boon to the poor worldwide.

How Much CO2 Is Too Much?

In historical terms, concentrations of CO2 have varied widely over geological time, with peaks 15 or 20 times higher than at present, and troughs just under half of today’s level. In other words, current levels of this life-enhancing gas are very low. That’s why prominent scientists, such as Princeton’s Dr. William Happer, head of President Donald Trump’s recently formed Presidential Committee on Climate Security, argue that Earth is presently carbon-starved.

Amounts of carbon are measured in gigatons of carbon (Gt C), one gigaton being a billion metric tons. The annual production of carbon from fossil fuel emissions is estimated to be roughly 9.8 Gt C. Is that a lot? To understand its significance, we have to ask how much natural carbon there is on Earth today, where it is, and how much of it moves from place to place.

The Earth’s atmosphere holds around 750 Gt C; the surface of oceans about 1,000 Gt C; the intermediate and deep oceans about 38,000 Gt C; and the Earth’s natural vegetation cover and other surface matter about 2,200 Gt C. There is another 300 Gt C that moves around between oceans, air, vegetation, marine life, and ocean surfaces and depths, and so all known and estimated amounts are well over 40,000 Gt C.

Is There An Agenda?

It seems increasingly apparent that the science of climate has all but wholly mutated into the politics of climate. Accordingly, we are getting more and more scare-statements warning that AGW is going to bring the world to an end within 12 years.

Below is a sampling of those fears and calls to revolution, of which the “Green New Deal” is just the most recent. This article (and the questions it raises) is offered as an antidote to those fears.

“Climatology has become a political party with totalitarian tendencies … [it is] becoming an increasingly dubious science, serving a political project … the policy cart is leading the scientific horse.”

  • Maurice Strong, who organized the first U.N. Earth Climate Summit (1992) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil:

“We may get to the point where the only way of saving the world will be for industrialized civilization to collapse. Isn’t it our responsibility to bring this about?”

“… one has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. Instead, climate change policy is about how we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth …”

  • Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2019:

“This is probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves: to intentionally transform the economic development model for the first time in human history.”

“This is really about providing justice for communities … So, really the heart of the Green New Deal is about social justice.”

William Gairdner is an author who lives near Toronto. His latest book is “The Great Divide: Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree” (2015). His website is

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Follow William on Twitter: @williamgairdner