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The Emperor's New Climate: Is Global Warming Real? Part II

Tuesday, 17 February 2004 12:00 AM

Michael Mann must have been furious. In public, scientists are at least tepidly respectful of each other’s reputations and character—which are essential to making a scientist employable. To breach that wall is to invite mutually assured destruction.

Yet in July of this year, Mann sat before James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and testified that the professional work of the Harvard professor sitting at the table next to him was “pure nonsense” and “fundamentally unsound.” He added, “There is little that is valid in that paper. They got just about everything wrong.”

The object of Mann’s ire, Willie Soon, a mild-mannered Malaysian native teaching at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, had done something unthinkable. He and his colleague at the center, Sallie Baliunas, with other researchers, had published a paper in Energy and Environment arguing that the 20th century had not been the warmest in the last 1,000 years. It did not seem to mollify global warming’s true believers that the basics of Soon’s claim had been well established in the peer-reviewed literature for decades.

Soon and Baliunas confirmed that from 800 to 1300 A.D., average temperatures in many regions worldwide were 2 to 4 degrees or more higher than the allegedly sweltering 20th century. It’s referred to as the Medieval Warm Period (MWP), and the extra warmth made life better, not worse. It is not only the arcane techniques of paleoclimatology, such as testing core samples of glacial ice for radioisotopes, that testify to the MWP, but history—such as people’s contemporary accounts of what they grew in their fields.

Decent wine grapes grew in Merrie England. (No more, alas.) Olives grew in 13th-century Germany, where St. Albert the Great also noted abundant fig and pomegranate groves in Cologne and the Rhine valley—places too cold for those crops today. Renaissance culture awakened and flourished throughout Europe.

The MWP also explains why Greenland, now essentially a glacier, could credibly be called Greenland. It was a Danish colony, and things actually grew there.

Following the MWP, the Greenland colony died out as average temperatures plummeted 3 to 5 degrees—about 2 degrees colder than our climate today. This Little Ice Age (LIA) finally moderated but lasted in most places until about 1900. For whatever reason, many regions have warmed up about 1 degree since 1900.

Because of Soon and Baliunas’s paper, Mann’s hockey stick was not so much broken as shattered. Interestingly enough, the two studies don’t entirely contradict each other. The Mann “hockey stick” study used such a small number of temperature record samples to create its dramatic trend line that the margin of error is substantial. Indeed, it’s so wide that you could draw a variety of lines through the chart—including a trend of global cooling.

Soon says: “They’re showing incomplete sets of data. If you do that, it’s easy to show the curve you want people to see. For explaining this, they called me a ‘right-wing extremist.’ I don’t care what wings are. I want to know what the facts are.”

The Soon and Baliunas study included more up-to-date research published in the four years since Mann’s study had been released.

Soon speaks enthusiastically of logic and measurement. “One of the most important pillars of the claim that CO2 is producing global warming,” he says, “is the thermometer readings taken over the last 150 years. They show warming from 1900 to the 1940s. But the amount of CO2 produced then was negligible compared to the next period—from the 1940s to the 1970s—when there was cooling. So how can the CO2 be producing the warming? That is the contradiction. They have yet to show why this would be.”

But there’s another reason global-warming scientists have it in for Soon and Baliunas: The point of their work is not merely to demolish the “hockey-stick” model of history. They aim to replace it.

Since they’re astrophysicists, Soon and Baliunas know about sunspots—powerful pulses of electromagnetic energy whose effects are felt hundreds of millions of miles distant. It turns out that while increased CO2 emissions don’t correlate very well with global warming, something else does—something as far out of our control and as firmly in the hands of God as it can be: the fluctuating heat of our ultimate heat source, the sun.

More research is needed, but it appears that, stretching back 1,000 years, when sunspot activity went up, the earth got warmer; when the activity went down, the earth got colder. Soon is co-author of a new book on the sun’s variability, The Maunder Minimum and the Variable Sun-Earth Connection (World Scientific Publishing, 2004).

As Soon painstakingly told me, “I am still trying to disprove my theory, to see if it is correct. But from the data, I still cannot rule out the possibility that I am right.”

I’m shocked by the lengths some scientist-believers go for the global warming cause, and I mention this to Patrick J. Michaels—a climatologist, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute, and author of The Satanic Gases: Clearing the Air About Global Warming. Michaels is surprised that I’m surprised.

He says: “No one in Washington gets large grants by saying something isn’t a problem. Meanwhile, the $10 billion thrown at climate modeling research in the last 15 years was wasted.”

I protest, “Where’s their concern for the truth? Some of these guys are worse than the politicians!”

“I believe you guys in the Catholic Church have a concept called original sin,” Michaels explains. “Picture this: It’s 1992 and there’s a hearing. Senator Albert Gore says he thinks global warming is a serious issue, and do you think it would be worthwhile to spend $1 billion or so studying it? No one is going to speak up and say it’s an overblown problem. If he did, all his colleagues would take out their knives and throw them into his back before he could leave the hearing room.”

The result is a theory of impending doom that’s hard to test, since the proof is 100 years away. In the meantime, you could argue that it has become a form of welfare for liberal scientists.

Michaels is fond of bringing in Thomas Kuhn’s thinking from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: Scientists have created a global-warming paradigm for themselves that benefits them—as a cause and as a livelihood. They won’t easily be dissuaded from it.

According to Kuhn, scientists tend to resist new information that upsets their paradigm till a new paradigm from a new generation finally supersedes it. In the meantime, when their hypotheses don’t work out, it’s typical to see them come up with more and more complicated explanations and lash out personally at their critics.

Duncan Maxwell Anderson writes on science, religion, and politics when he is not splitting firewood to heat his house in upstate New York.

Reprinted with special permission from Crisis Magazine.

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