Opinion: Is Man-Made Climate Change a Settled Science?

July 11, 2019 Updated: July 11, 2019

There is still a strong dissenting camp to the theory that climate change is caused by the man-made greenhouse gas CO2. This camp argues that the science of climate change is far from settled.

Media coverage is overwhelmingly on one side of this debate. However, the public deserves to hear about scientific discoveries from both sides.

The Heartland Institute has been hosting the International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC) since 2008. The 13th International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC-13) will be held in Washington, D.C., on July 25, 2019. The conference provides a public forum for the voices of the dissenters.

According to the Heartland Institute’s website, the 12th International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC-12) attracted some 300 scientists, economists, policy experts, and guests willing to question whether man-made global warming is a problem worth addressing. The event featured 37 keynoters and panelists.

Details about the ICCC-13 speakers are available on the Heartland Institute’s website.

To discuss the current debate on climate change, we must address three main components:

1) Is the climate change a crisis?

2) Is the climate change caused by human activities or natural forces?

3) Is man-made CO2 driving global warming?

To discuss the latest climate change data and policy concerns, I spoke to Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News; and geologist Gregory Wrightstone, author of “Inconvenient Facts” and a previous speaker at the ICCC.

Is Climate Change a Crisis?

The commonly promoted view of climate change includes facts and predictions about rising sea levels, rapid extinction of species, more droughts and fires, stronger hurricanes, ocean acidification, and so on.

The predicament of polar bears floating on lone icebergs tugs at our heartstrings. The savage California fires of this year still leave fresh burns on our psyche. Not to mention Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Maria, and sea turtle shells dissolving or thinning in the “acidic” ocean.

It is understandable for people to want immediate action taken, especially if this is indeed caused by humans themselves.

As a geologist, Wrightstone was first alarmed by the assertion that rising CO2 is causing ocean acidification. He knew that the ocean pH has stayed in the narrow range between 7.95 and 8.2 (pH>7 is alkaline).

Ocean limestone formation cannot occur in an acidic ocean, yet the process has continued since the Cambrian period more than 300 million years ago. Acidification is possible with local upwelling of methane or organic matter in brief durations locally only.

The CO2 level has steadily decreased from 2600ppm, the level 140 million years ago, to today’s level of about 400ppm. The current ocean pH of 8.1 is alkaline, not acidic.

Wrightstone considers “ocean acidification” a very misleading term. This initial foray into climate claims spurred him on to research other aspects of the climate crisis assertion.

In his geological time assessment, natural cycles have driven Earth through warm periods and ice ages. The technical terms for the warm periods are the Holocene Climate Optimum, Roman Climate Optimum, Medieval Climate Optimum, and so on. Technically, we are also coming out of an interglacial period irrespective of the man-made greenhouse effect.

The polar bear population has increased from the 1960 estimate of 5000–15,000 to the 2017 estimate of 28,500. Surprisingly, even the number of California fires was not increasing according to CalFire’s own data. The global area burned in the Northern Hemisphere has consistently declined in the last 100 years.

This data is all available in Wrightstone’s book “Inconvenient Facts: The Science That Al Gore Doesn’t Want You to Know.” It is also available in InconvenientApp, an app in the iPhone and Android app stores.

Burnett pointed out that some climate scientists hold the man-made crisis view much like a religious faith. He said that in his debates with some of them, when asked what could change their minds on this belief, many gave no answers. One scientist actually said only if all the laws of physics were proven wrong.

He believes that there are many good scientists who are genuinely convinced one way or the other. However, depending on the bend of their scientific conclusions, they themselves may either be lauded or marginalized.

Many scientists will therefore go to great lengths to claim that they are not making a conclusion against global warming, even though their data contradicts it, lest they be called climate change “deniers.”

The belief that there is a climate crisis drives up government funding such that there has been more climate science funding in the last 10 years than in the preceding 40 years. There is certainly an incentive for some groups to keep alive the sense of a crisis.

Environmentalists’ longing for simpler lives, kinder treatment of the environment and animal life, and rejection of human excesses naturally causes them to gravitate toward the conclusion of a human-induced crisis.

Regardless of the conclusion about whether a crisis exists, from a climate policy point of view, Burnett said rational and sensible approaches must be taken. Radical approaches will be ruinous without any benefit for people today or our children in the future.

For instance, on the issue of rising sea levels, Burnett wrote an article titled “Data Indicate There’s No Need to Panic About Rising Seas,” which was published on June 18.

The article states: “Although, on average, global sea levels have risen by approximately 400 feet since the beginning of the end of the most recent ice age—approximately 20,000 years ago—the rate of sea level rise has risen and fallen at various times, slowing and increasing on the order of tens, hundreds, and thousands of years over the past 20,000 years, having nothing whatsoever to do with human activities.”

For localities where sea level increase is threatening communities, the Green New Deal type of approach will do little to help them. But human ingenuity and adaptivity will.

The answer to the question “Is climate change a crisis?” seems to be debatable. Indeed, there are winners and losers with climate change now as always.

Caused by Humans or Nature?

Earth circles around the sun in the solar system, which hurtles through space in the Milky Way galaxy, bathed in the sun’s rays and cosmic rays and bombarded by cosmic debris. It is fair to say that the climate on Earth has probably never stayed the same for long.

It is, of course, entirely beyond reproach to say that human activities can affect Earth’s climate.

Wrightstone pointed out in his book that modern warming began long before SUVs or coal-fired plants. The rate of temperature increase did not track the rate of CO2 concentration increase for the past 300 years of warming.

During the 18 years between 1998 and 2014, CO2 increased, yet the temperature didn’t. From a geological-time point of view, current climate change is consistent with the natural evolution of Earth’s climate.

That’s why, Wrightstone mused, he usually has 100 percent consensus support when he gives climate speeches to groups of geologists.

The factors that can affect Earth’s climate are numerous. They include solar radiation, cosmic radiation, Earth’s geological variation, volcanoes, the water cycle, the carbon cycle, land use, etc.

Human activities can change the climate by affecting changes to the water cycle. Quantifying the effects is not a clear science.

Human activities can change the Earth’s landscape. Urban areas become heat centers, and deforestation changes the Earth’s albedo and the water cycle.

Human activities increase CO2 through burning fossil fuels. CO2 in the air can trap heat and cause warming, but CO2 is also plant food, which speeds up the greening of the Earth (there is a map of the greening of the Earth in InconvenientApp).

The greening of the Earth changes the water cycle. Again, the water cycle’s effects on the climate are chaotic.

Since the science of climate change deals with a chaotic climate system, the heart of climate science is through models. The quality of past data is an important starting point for any model.

Burnett said that temperature data collected in an urban area could be higher than in the surrounding areas, and ocean temperature data collected by ship intake valves is inflated by the heat generated by the ship’s engine. Yet this data was used prominently in some climate reports to validate the conclusion of global warming.

In conclusion, the answer to “Is the climate change caused by human activities or natural forces?” is still debatable.

Is Man-Made CO2 Causing Warming?

In studying the climate, scientists use various climate models. The simplest model would be to treat the Earth as one homogenous mass; the global temperature would be simulated by the change in solar input/output.

Assuming nothing changes except for CO2 levels, each doubling of the CO2 concentration would result in a global temperature increase of about 1oC. This number is referred to as CO2 sensitivity.

In the more complex models, this number is modified based on experimental data and scientists’ understanding of the interactions among factors such as clouds, oceans, geology, etc.

The first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in 1990 and the second IPCC report in 1995 used a mean CO2 sensitivity of 2.5oC. The third IPCC report in 2001 used a mean CO2 sensitivity of 2.8oC, the fourth report in 2007 used 3.3oC, and so on.

However, as scientists readily admit, they are still far from understanding the physics of interacting factors; therefore, the farther out in time, the more divergent the model forecast is from the reality.

An article in 2014 on C3headlines.com was titled, “Climate Agencies Confirm IPCC’s Climate Model Output Extremely Unlikely – Since 1990s, Wrong 95% of Time.”

In fact, the most abundant greenhouse gas on earth is water (H2O). But H2O changes state according to temperature. H2O can exist as humidity, different types of clouds, raining here, or snowing there based on temperature, geology, and cosmic radiation.

CO2’s ability to modulate climate largely depends on how it modifies H2O’s chaotic behavior through temperature. Almost all the IPCC models decided on a positive feedback effect of CO2.

But clearly some data already exist where rising CO2 did not correlate to rising temperature (see “Recent Inconvenient Pause of 18 Years in Warming, Despite Rise in CO2” in InconvenientApp).

For now, the answer to the question “Is man-made CO2 driving global warming?” is still debatable.

There are many papers that demonstrate a positive correlation in certain periods of time. Many scientists believe in the CO2 global warming theory.

However, science is not based on consensus. In science, one negative is all that’s needed to disprove a theory. Therefore, until there are models that can hindcast and forecast correctly for long periods of time, climate debate should be encouraged, not shut down.

Reference Articles by Wrightstone and Burnett

Wrightstone is devoting all his time to getting information out on the climate issue. In addition to his book “Inconvenient Facts” and InconvenientApp, he is doing a weekly podcast with WXCO Hometown Radio (email oliver@oliverkburrows.com for information).

He also has a blog with insightful articles such as:

  • “97% Consensus” – What Consensus?
  • Looming mass extinctions exposed in US House testimonies

Burnett emphasized that the science on climate change is not settled, and the claim that the majority of scientists believe in human-induced global warming by CO2 is false.

Here are some of Burnett’s articles that I found to be educational:

  • Russia Is Polluting Energy and Climate Politics in Western Democracies
  • Data Indicate There’s No Need to Panic About Rising Seas

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

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