May 9, 2008
The End Of The Fake Consensus On Global Warming
Lawrence Solomon is an anti-nuclear, Toronto-based, urban-loving, 1970s peace activist who opposes subsidies to the oil industry; he might be the last person expected to detail cracks in the science of global warming. But Solomon has done just that in a short book with a long sub-title: The Deniers: The world-renowned scientists who stood up against global warming hysteria, political persecution, and fraud (and those who are too fearful to do so).
The spark for the book came after an American TV reporter compared those who question the Kyoto Protocol to Holocaust deniers. But Solomon wondered about that so he sought out the experts in specific fields to garner their views.
Consider Dr. Edward Wegman, asked by the U.S. Congress to assess the famous “hockey stick” graph from Michael Mann, published by the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The “stick” purports to show temperatures as mostly constant over the last 1,000 years–except for a spike in the last century.
The IPCC claimed the hockey stick “proved” unique 20th century global warming.
But it didn’t. Wegman, who drew on the initial scepticism of two Canadians who questioned Mann’s statistical handling, found that Mann’s hockey stick was the result of a statistical error – the statistical model actually mined data to produce the hockey stick and excluded contrary data. That mistake occurred not because Mann was deceptive or a poor scientist—he’s an expert in the paleoclimate community as were those who reviewed his paper. But that was the problem: the paleoclimate scientists were trapped in their own disciplinary ghetto and not up to speed on the latest, most appropriate statistical methods.
Is Wegman the scientific equivalent of a medical quack? No. His CV includes eight books, over 160 published papers, and editorships of prestigious journals. He was a past president of the International Association of Statistical Computing, among other distinctions.
Opinions in The Deniers vary dramatically and Solomon, a non-scientist, doesn’t try to settle the disputes. He instead attempts to give readers insight into how non-settled and fragmentary the science actually is on climate change.
For example, think the polar icecaps are melting? That’s true at the North Pole but it’s not certain at the South Pole according to Dr. Duncam Wingham. A portion of Antarctica’s northern peninsula is melting. But that’s a tiny slice of the 14-million square kilometre continent. And confounding evidence exists. Since the inception of the South Pole research station in 1957 recorded temperatures have actually fallen.
Wingham is cautious. He doesn’t deny global warming might exist. But his data shows the Antarctic ice sheet is growing, not shrinking, and the chapter on why ice measurements are tricky is another fine, informative part of The Deniers.
Is Wingham a flake, a denier in league with flat-earthers? Only if you think the Chair of the Department of Space and Climate Physics and Head of earth Sciences at University College London, and a Member of the Earth Observation Experts Group, among other titles, qualifies for such a label.
The most intriguing part of The Deniers is the attempt by dozens of credible scientists from weighty institutions to point out what should be common-sense obvious: the sun might affect earth’s climate. “We understand the greenhouse effect pretty well,” writes Solomon, “we know vanishingly little about how the Sun—our main source of energy driving the climate—affects climate change.”
But the IPCC refuses to even consider the sun’s influence on earth’s climate—it conceives of its mission only to investigate possible man-made effects upon climate. But that’s akin to a hit-and-run investigation where police rule out all cars except one model, this before they even question witnesses.
No one who reads The Deniers will be able to claim a scientific consensus exists on global warming. (Some scientists even argue the planet’s climate is about to cool.) But it might leave honest readers with this question: So what? Why not spend billions to reduce possible human-induced climate change just in case?
Because as Antonio Zichichi argues (a professor emeritus at the University of Bologna and author of over 800 papers), global warming is only one alleged calamity that faces the world’s poor. As Solomon writes about his interview with Zichichi, “every dollar and hour diverted to a crisis that might not exist, has real and tragic costs.”
The “deniers” and The Deniers matter because the book is about the search for scientific explanations for a complex phenomenon. Usefully, the eminent scientists interviewed are in a better position than most to judge whether a consensus exists on global warming. Their collective verdict, much varied in the particulars, is “no.”
Mark Milke, Alberta Senior Fellow
is a lecturer in political philosophy and international relations at the University of Calgary, a doctoral candidate in Political Science, policy analyst, and author of three books on Canadian politics, including the 2006 A Nation of Serfs? How Canada’s Political Culture Corrupts Canadian Values from John Wiley & Sons. He is a former director (first in Alberta and then British Columbia) with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation 1997-2002. Since 2002, among other work, Mark has written policy papers on the Canada Pension Plan, Alberta’s Heritage Fund, automobile insurance, corporate welfare and the flat tax. He is writing his PhD dissertation on the effects of anti-Americanism on deliberative democracy in Canada and is a Sunday columnist for the Calgary Herald. In addition, his columns on politics, hiking, nature and architecture have been published across Canada including in the National Post, Globe and Mail, Reader’s Digest, The Western Standard, Vancouver Sun, and Victoria Times Colonist and the Washington DC magazine on politics, The Weekly Standard.