Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/518/3702
Global warming, climate change and human activities - Part 2
THE SCIENTIFIC ideas under-pinning the issues of global warming and climate change were recently debated in The Socialist (Issue 516) between reader Tony Simmons and the author of the Socialist Party's pamphlet Planning Green Growth, Pete Dickenson.
Tony is sceptical that human-induced activities are causing climate change whereas Pete argues that the burning of fossil fuels is resulting in rapid climate change.
In this issue we print Tony's and Pete's replies together with a selection of readers' letters contributing to the debate. (No replies supported Tony's position.) Unfortunately space limitation has meant that both replies have been shortened, as indicated in the text.
The editors wish to thank the authors and readers for stimulating discussion on the subject, which will undoubtedly continue in the forums and bodies of the Socialist Party.
I remain sceptical
WITH ONLY 400 words to play with, it was very difficult to set out a complete argument against climate alarmism, but I would like to thank the Socialist Party for providing a platform for this debate.
Science is not conducted by consensus but by testing hypotheses and by being sceptical. The first duty of a scientist is to be sceptical... I challenge Pete to show that there is a consensus in favour anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in the peer reviewed scientific literature.
In 2005 Dr Benny Peiser of Liverpool John Moores University showed that there is no such consensus 1,2. Just because AGW theory is prevalent, doesn't mean that it is correct.
Could the extreme conservativeness of the IPCC possibly be because evidence is mounting that humans are not impacting the climate to the extent previously thought? Blaming Bush and 'Big Oil' for the IPCCs conservativeness is an ad hoc rebuttal typical of proponents of human induced warming, aimed at discrediting the individual or body, but without tackling the scientific arguments.
1998 remains the hottest year of the past few hundred years, and that was because of a monster El Nino. In the decade since the Earth has neither warmed nor cooled... It is simply not warming up as predicted by models.
In establishing a case for AGW, we must know what the natural variability of the Earth's climate is. This is precisely what Hockey Stick graphs seek to achieve and so they are, in fact, crucial to the debate. When Hansen came out with his hockey stick, it was hailed by the IPCC and media as the 'smoking gun' evidence that we are the cause of recent warming.
Since it was demolished by McIntyre and McKitric 3 amongst others, it is now 'not decisive to the debate'? I disagree entirely. It has been shown that the recent warm temperatures are not unprecedented in the past millennium. Therefore natural variability is high, and so it is much more difficult to detect an anthropogenic signal.
How could climate models in which 'half the variability of the climate system is not predictable' possibly detect a human impact on temperatures? I challenge Pete to show me how.
Returning to the solar theory of climate change, the Earth is not yet cooling and if the theory is correct, significant cooling won't be noticed for a few years. This is because solar cycle 25 is expected to be very weak, we are currently at the start of cycle 24. We have no choice but to wait and see for confirmation of either theory.
Svensmark's cosmic ray theory is not a 'small piece in the jigsaw' given its implications and the evidence which supports it.
It is at this juncture that the precautionary principle is invoked. Is it really prudent to pursue an international policy in which millions of people will be impoverished 'just in case'?
Currently there are far more important environmental issues such as deforestation, landfill and water supply which must be urgently addressed. The AGW debacle is directing our attention away from such matters. More worryingly, if AGW does not transpire, the credibility of the environmental movement who have religiously supported the theory, will be grievously damaged.
1. B. Peiser, 2005. 'The Dangers of Consensus Science,' www.staff.livjm.ac.uk/spsbpeis/NationalPost.htm
2. B. Peiser, 2005. 'The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change', A letter Science magazine refused to publish. www.staff.livjm.ac.uk/spsbpeis/Scienceletter.htm
3. S. McIntyre and R. McKitric, 2003. "Corrections to the Mann et al. (1998) Proxy Data Base and Northern Hemisphere Average Temperature Series," Energy and Environment, Vol. 14, No. 6, pp. 751-771.
Consensus, science and capitalism
THE FIRST implied criticism that is made is that I unjustifiably rely on invoking a scientific consensus to prove the global warming case.
Tony is quite right of course to point out that science is not conducted by consensus, since new truths usually emerge from the clash of competing ideas. However, this does not mean that this particular consensus is wrong.
All claims must be viewed ultimately, although not uncritically, on their own merits, and as I pointed out the evidence for human induced warming is overwhelming. Indeed, 25 years ago this theory itself was supported by just a tiny minority and only became accepted as the evidence mounted to back it, something that hasn't happened to competing cooling theories.
After raising the issue of consensus, Tony then changes the argument somewhat by questioning that a consensus exists, quoting an unpublished letter sent to Science magazine in support, and challenging me to prove otherwise. Exhaustive critical reviews have in fact appeared in the scientific press in recent years that back human activity as driving warming, and it is because it was scientifically unsound that the letter to Science that challenged these reviews was not published...
Another criticism is that I am not justified in bringing in Bush and 'Big Oil's' position to back my case, or for that matter presumably quoting the right-wing British press, since the issue should be decided purely on scientific grounds. I think I am being perfectly reasonable though, since science and scientists do not exist in a vacuum, they are influenced and shaped by capitalism in many ways and therefore analysis of controversies can never be 'purely' scientific. (Having said this, it is true of course that science ultimately retains its objective material basis - not least because capitalism needs this to best exploit the planet's resources).
In the concrete case here then, it is entirely legitimate to question whether the IPCC's views have been influenced by pressure from the US government and big business.
On the issue of the 'hockey stick' graph and the variability of the data, Tony presents no new argument. The question remains: can natural variability be distinguished from human driven? A review of the science press clearly shows this is the case, although it is not possible (or appropriate) here to go into the scientific detail. (I discuss one of the many pieces of evidence to back my position in Socialism Today, April 2005).
Finally, the precautionary principle, which says that even if the evidence on global warming isn't absolutely clear, something should be done now since the consequences of inaction could be disastrous, is challenged. This is on the grounds that "millions will be impoverished" for the sake of an unproven theory, if action is taken to switch to renewable energy.
Again, this is not the case since it will cost only a few percent of GNP to transfer, but of course even a resulting relatively small hit on profits is unacceptable to big business, as has been seen by its inaction over the past 15 years.
If a transfer to renewables was democratically planned then there would be no impoverishment at all, on the contrary it would be possible to incorporate sustainability into an overall plan that led to the transformation of the lives of the poor of the entire planet.
Underestimating the problem
TONY SIMMONS' assertion that "global warming peaked in 1998" is false. According to a NASA study, 2005 was the warmest year in the last century, followed by 2007/1998, 2002, 2003 and 2006.
2005 is significant because there was no 'El Nino' effect to boost temperature.
Tony also dismisses paleoclimatologist Michael Mann's 'hockey stick' temperature record of the past thousand years, which links man-made green-house gas emissions to rapid global warming. However, Mann's key conclusions were upheld by the National Academy of Sciences.
And as to climate change models being suspect, these have 'failed' only by underestimating the seriousness of global warming, as witnessed by research over the last two years or so. For example, scientists at an atmospheric monitoring station in the Norwegian territory of Svalbard have found that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere near the North Pole are now rising at an unprecedented pace.
Since 2000, the rate at which carbon dioxide has been pumped into the atmosphere is 35% greater than most climate change models have allowed for.
In the last 20 years, CO2 levels in the atmosphere have gone from 350 to 380 parts per million and once levels reach 500, there could be irreversible consequences.
The alarming conclusion is that the puny international efforts of the advanced capitalist countries to bring greenhouse gas emissions under control have failed.
Simon Carter, east London
It's getting warmer
I'M AFRAID Tony Simmons' figures (Is the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change?, The Socialist 17/01/08) are slightly out of date.
2005 was the warmest year since the late 1800s, passing 1998, the year at which Tony suggests global warming peaked. And according to the most recent studies from climatologists at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City, 2007 matched 1998 for second place. (Science Daily, 17/01/08)
The next five hottest years all come since 1998, not before, as one would expect if the world was beginning to cool as Tony suggests. In order, after 2005, with 2007 and 1998 drawing second, come the years 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2004.
It is remarkable that 2007 drew for second place, incidentally, since the current La Nina effect is in full swing, which reduces global temperatures. "As we predicted last year, 2007 was warmer than 2006, continuing the strong warming trend of the past 30 years that has been confidently attributed to the effect of increasing human-made greenhouse gases," said James Hansen, director of NASA GISS. (Hansen is amongst those scientists who have suggested that global warming is occurring far more rapidly than anticipated by the IPCC.)
Science Daily points out that the eight warmest years in the GISS record have all occurred since 1998, and the 14 warmest years in the record have all occurred since 1990.
Pete Mason, London
THE STRONG consensus among scientists is that global warming is being caused by fossil fuel burning. However, one ironic outcome of earth overheating could be drastic climate cooling in certain areas, such as Britain, due to its impact on the Gulf Stream.
Terminology is important. Mr Bush and his oil producing friends have led a campaign to eradicate the frightening but nevertheless realistic term 'Global Warming' and replace it with the vague label, 'Climate Change'. Why? So that the oil industry does not shoulder the blame for environmental melt-down and it also implies that if there really is a problem, then it's a natural occurrence.
In reality, this is a fictional debate (continually engineered by oil interests), as the vast majority of scientists agree that global overheating is man-made and not due to natural causes.
Rob Bishop, Cheltenham
Scientists under pressure
TONY SIMMONS need not worry about a supposed bogus scientific consensus on global warming, since George Bush, Gordon Brown, the rulers of China, Russia, India, et al, continue to largely ignore it!
Tony is, however, correct not to equate consensus with 'truth'. After all, once there was a 'scientific consensus' that dismissed a causal link between tobacco smoking and lung cancer.
Nowadays such a position seems absurd. But surely the real issue is that, under capitalism, much scientific research is not independent of governments nor corporate interference.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, for example, found that 58% of the 279 climate scientists working at federal agencies in the US were pressured to change their findings to suit the government's view.
IPCC scientists were bullied by the US, Saudi Arabia, China and Russia to water down their conclusions on greenhouse gas emissions and rapid climate change.
Other examples include the use of false statistics and the misrepresentation of scientists' views in Channel 4's 'documentary' The Great Global Warming Swindle.
There are also arch-exponents of the idea that solar cycles explain everything about climate change who are linked to big business. For example, Fred Singer, and the oil giant ExxonMobil.
Singer recently produced a list of 500 scientists supposedly refuting "current man-made global warming scares."
This list included Joanna Haigh of Imperial College London, a pre-eminent researcher of solar influences on climate. She, along with other scientists, demanded to be taken off the list. "I have never claimed that solar forcing is responsible for recent global warming," she said.
John Collins, Hemel Hempstead
In The Socialist 30 January 2008:
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Debt and Housing Feature
Marxist analysis: history
Socialist Party workplace news