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Copenhagen 2009 -- Change Of Focus Needed


Roger J Smith

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Posted
  • Location: Rossland BC Canada
  • Location: Rossland BC Canada

Copenhagen 2009 -- change of focus needed

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International climate scientists and government officials will hold a conference in Copenhagen later this year to address the question of updating the Kyoto accords and setting an agenda for managing climate issues in the near future.

This is an appeal from a critic of past approaches and processes to consider an entirely new and different approach rather than fine-tuning the Kyoto protocols.

I invite like-minded followers of this subject to add their comments, to show that there is a widespread unease with the directions being taken by the international community on issues that some have called "climate change."

My concern stems from a lifelong interest in climate and weather, including university-level training as a climatologist and operational experience as a forecaster, dating back now almost forty years.

Like many other so-called "skeptics" I tend to view the main driving force behind climate "change" as natural variation. I can accept that greenhouse gases may be adding a slight warming influence to the earth's atmosphere, but I don't believe that the changes we have witnessed since 1980 really prove conclusively that human activity is the main reason for the observed changes.

The skeptics may vary in their assessments of how much of recent warming was natural, and how much was anthropogenic. I am probably situated somewhere near the middle of this spectrum in believing that one-fifth to one-third of the warming observed in recent decades could be related to increases in greenhouse gases. I doubt that it lies outside this range, so I would take the mid-point and say that I believe that about 27% of the warming is anthropogenic. I observe that this is not evenly distributed throughout climatic regions, nor does it fall equally on all weather patterns or times of day. Essentially, I think the warming shows up more in overnight minimum temperatures being artificially raised, and in subarctic temperatures being disproportionately raised, as compared with other times of day, or regions.

And even where the human activity may be having its greatest impact, I doubt that the main driving factors are anthropogenic. Natural variability has always been a very large factor in climate, and inter-decadal or inter-century changes on the order of 2 to 5 Celsius degrees are quite normal for mid-latitude and subarctic climates. Also quite normal are large fluctuations in ice cover and the severity of winters especially in winter-marginal zones.

One could launch into a detailed proof or demonstration of this concept, but I would expect it to be widely acceptable to climate scientists relative to past climates. The question more relevant is this: will greenhouse warming force the previous range of variability on an ever-ascending staircase of ups and downs, or will it never acquire a strong enough signal to over-ride natural variability?

On this second possibility, I would say that some degree of greenhouse gas increase might actually over-ride, but we are nowhere near that point yet, and are unlikely to reach it, so long as greenhouse gas emission levels are held back to current levels or reduced slightly. The Kyoto protocols envisaged reductions that are probably too utopian, but also, made a mockery of their own scientific integrity by excusing so-called developing countries like China from meeting any targets. The next round cannot have things both ways, either the science is accepted and applies to all, or it is in need of revision, and the revisions should be applied equally to all.

Another major weakness in Kyoto was the failure to recognize the role of particulate (sooty) pollution in possible climate change. The physics of this type of change are more clear-cut than greenhouse gas warming. Large amounts of sooty deposition in the subarctic and arctic will very likely have the effect of stimulating ice melting in conditions that, from a thermal perspective alone, would maintain at least some ice cover. This is done through reduction of albedo and increased heat absorption. Since eastern Asia has become the main source of sooty deposition in the subarctic and arctic, the next round of climate treaty formulation should include specific programs to cut back on it. The human health issue raised is also more clear-cut and obvious. Even in North America, there are negative health impacts from the transport downwind of Asian sooty deposition pollution, in terms of increased bronchial illnesses reported, and possibly allergic reactions and other irritations. The health effects within the source region must be many times greater. But much of the dirt falls on the ice in the Beaufort Sea and other fairly proximate ice covered regions. It may well be that the majority of ice wastage attributed to the greenhouse effect is really the fault of sooty deposition.

This dissenting opinion is not focused on political choices about energy sources. Even from a rigorous conservative rather than socialist perspective, there are no compelling reasons to avoid technological change that would promote cleaner, more sustainable energy sources, so long as the rating of sustainability is devoid of political bias. On the other hand, many skeptics have serious doubts about the wisdom of imposing costly programs that seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a time of global economic downturn, especially if the science behind the claims of effect on climate turn out to be faulty.

We face possible challenges from climate change, that much is agreed. However, this skeptic like many others believes that we do not have it within our human power to bring about colder climates with more robust ice cover and other projected end results, simply by altering the amounts of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. There are two major reasons for doubt on this important question. First of all, the rate of decrease of emissions seems utopian and difficult to enforce or realize, particularly if various countries are exempted. So all of the efforts may go for nothing, even if the science is valid. But the second poiint is that the science may not even be valid. In reality, the climate may go on varying naturally within a wide range, regardless of what humans do or plan to do.

It could very well be the case that natural variability could take the climate into the realm of widespread arctic ice melt, larger and more extensive than anything seen in the period 1980 to 2008, and possibly larger than anything seen since perhaps the "Post Glacial Optimum" period over five thousand years ago now. To be succinct, we could lose most of the Arctic Ocean ice pack, and considerably more of the Greenland and other northern land ice, possibly up to 20%, simply through a 1 to 3 C degree natural rise in temperatures that could occur in some 30-100 year period in the near future. This seems well within the range of natural variability already demonstrated by the earth's climate in historical times. There is no reason for anyone to rule out this possibility occurring for reasons that we can neither control nor, as of today, predict reliably.

On the other hand, natural variation could lead to more profound cooling than the rather modest cooling tendencies widely observed in the period mid-2007 to the present. This observer rates the current level of climate as being rather close to very long-term averages, and it would take a fairly long period like this (3-5 years) to help restore arctic ice levels to something more like the "glory days" of arctic ice in the early 1970s. There have been indications that we have turned a corner towards that situation, but certainly the recovery is still tenuous. If more profound cooling develops, then it could lead us back to a colder climatic regime like that of the mid to late 19th century, sometimes regarded as the last phase of the Little Ice Age, if not an intermediate case between the LIA and what one might call the "Mid-20th Century Warm Period" that preceded the "global warming maximum."

Observers will no doubt argue vigorously about which way things are headed, but the point is, we don't really know, and the general public are becoming increasingly skeptical and "tuned out" with respect to the endless pronouncements from the AGW lobby that things are out of control, about to get worse, etc etc, all predictions that are entirely based on assumptions that do not flow readily out of the widest possible reading of the evidence. That widest possible reading suggests that we face an uncertain future in which cooler climates are perhaps slightly more likely than warmer ones. Although we may be artifically enhancing the ambient temperature, the rate at which we produce these changes is perhaps much less robust than the warmist lobby has stated repeatedly over the recent past, and reality may soon demonstrate that natural variability is still the main driving factor.

That being said, our approach to climate change is not only wrong-headed, it is dangerous.

If there is some reasonable chance that the arctic ice could melt anyway, regardless of our political approach, then we set up the dangerous paradigm that if the approach works as planned, we could be facing an unexpected crisis of rising sea levels that would come on us rapidly despite the expectations that political action had forestalled such an outcome. There would be insufficient allocation of resources to planning and asset protection or relocation. I am not aware of any major country that has a co-ordinated program to plan out how it would protect or relocate assets within two or five metres of sea level. And this should be a priority now, not decades from now, because there are two different ways this could become an issue very soon -- (.a.) the theories I have outlined could be broadly true, and include natural warming, or (.b.) the AGW lobby could be right in their more controversial fast-timetable scenarios, but unable to bring about the necessary political changes in time. Either way, the result would be rapid sea level rises. I would imagine the cost of planning for these would be minimal compared to the disruptive costs of the disasters that would surely develop if governments failed to react to rapidly rising sea levels. The international community should already be going much further down what I call the "reality track" rather than the "utopian track" to develop concepts to deal with rising sea levels -- evacuations, asset relocations, protective barriers, even the possibility of taking large amounts of seawater out of the oceans for desalination in west Africa or other barren regions. But this needs to start happening now, because natural variability could bring this all to a critical level by 2020 or 2030.

At the same time, natural variability includes the possibility of much colder climates than we have seen recently. Governments need to shake off the "global warming" mindset and embrace the possibility that their citizens and economies could theoretically face colder climates in coming decades or centuries. Although the Milankovitch cycles do not indicate any reason for alarm about an impending ice age (a much slower end to this inter-glacial is foreseen relative to the previous rapid glaciations that began the Wisconsin 110,000 years ago), nevertheless, the range of natural variability suggests that a climate as cold as the late 19th century is not out of the realm of possibility. If we faced a large volcanic eruption, an asteroid collision or nuclear war, a temporary or even longer-duration Little Ice Age situation could develop with little or no warning, and presumably without any government planning in place either.

These are some of the reality checks that should be brought to the floor at Copenhagen. The current theory is frankly being pushed back into a fortress that consists of mainly theoretical atmospheric scientists and globalist political forces. This gives more and more cause for concern that the agenda is being more politically than scientifically driven. Rather than a process of attrition and gradual conversion of the skeptics, the real situation is the opposite, a strengthening of the skeptical position in general, and the defection of much of public opinion towards this more cautious approach. It is time that the actual political and scientific process took all of this into account, rather than going on about "denialists" who "don't understand proven science." The numbers speak for themselves -- reality is not matching the earlier expectations of the AGW lobby, and we are now pretty much in the "emperor's new coat" paradigm of climate change. But the question is, what should the emperor be wearing? There is probably not a lot of improvement to the current situation if we overturn the paradigm and say, well now it will just get colder and colder. This is where we may get a very nasty surprise in the future, just when the AGW theory falls out of favour, then natural variability deals us a super-warm card.

Somewhat like a downhill ski racer, we have to be ready for anything, sharp turns in any direction could lie just beyond our field of vision. And unlike the ski racer, we have not had the benefit of a practice run and a scouting trip.

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Posted
  • Location: just south of Doncaster, Sth Yorks
  • Location: just south of Doncaster, Sth Yorks

will take time to read and assimilate before making any comments Roger

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Posted
  • Location: Worthing West Sussex
  • Location: Worthing West Sussex

The futility of action against mitigation of climate change will be demonstrated by these people - let them self-defeat - it is in their minds already.

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