Thursday, February 01, 2007

Global Warming: Fact, Fiction, or “We’re Not Sure?”

February 2 is the date the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will issue a report assuring us that human activity is the major cause of global warming.

ABC News got a copy of a draft of the IPCC report, and filed a story which said that “scientists now have more evidence than ever that human activity — mostly greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal, oil and gas — is largely responsible for the continuing rise in Earth's average surface temperature.”

The IPCC report involved more than 2,000 scientists from well over 100 nations. That seems like a lot of scientists, but a quick search turned up the fact that there are 7,400 (more or less) atmospheric scientists in the U.S. alone. The 2,000 or so IPCC scientists are but a fraction of all atmospheric scientists in the world. Are they the best possible group to work on this report? Are they a randomly selected group, or do they share a bias favoring the Man-Causes-Global-Warming theory? Some of us who aren’t ready to condemn mankind for trashing the planet without solid proof want to know more.

No doubt, global warming adherents will remain solidly convinced that Man is the worst thing to have happened to Nature, and that the report will correctly conclude that man has caused global warming, or at least contributed significantly to it. And there will be many more who are not necessarily environmentalists that will accept this theory as Gospel because it has received such positive support in the news and information media. But not everyone agrees with that assessment.

The National Center for Policy Analysis, for one, has this to say on the subject: “The Earth currently is experiencing a warming trend, but there is scientific evidence that human activities have little to do with it. Instead, the warming seems to be part of a 1,500-year cycle (plus or minus 500 years) of moderate temperature swings.”

And the National Aeronautic and Space Administration—NASA—isn’t so sure, either. “It may surprise many people that science—the de facto source of dependable knowledge about the natural world—cannot deliver an unqualified, unanimous answer about something as important as climate change. Why is the question so thorny? The reason, say experts, is that Earth's climate is complex and chaotic. It's so unwieldy that researchers simply can't conduct experiments to check their ideas in the usual way of science. They often rely, instead, on computer models. But such models are only as good as their inputs and programming, and today's computer models are known to be imperfect.”

A report in The Daily Telegraph of London in November 2006, reflects that even the IPCC isn’t certain about its own conclusions:

“Mankind has had less effect on global warming than previously supposed, a United Nations report on climate change will claim next year.

“The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says there can be little doubt that humans are responsible for warming the planet, but the organisation has reduced its overall estimate of this effect by 25 per cent.”

The IPCC is certain that mankind is responsible, but has just learned that its previous estimate of human influence on global warming was significantly overstated. And that begs the question, If the IPCC is that far off in estimating the degree to which humans have influenced global warming, how far off are its conclusions on the broader topic?

The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine began a petition project in 2001 to dissuade the United States from signing the Kyoto agreement, which the U.S. ultimately refused to sign. In a letter seeking signatories to the petition from Frederick Seitz, Past President, National Academy of Sciences, and President Emeritus, Rockefeller University, is this opinion: “This treaty is, in our opinion, based upon flawed ideas. Research data on climate change do not show that human use of hydrocarbons is harmful. To the contrary, there is good evidence that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is environmentally helpful.”

The petition contains similar language and bears more than 17,000 signatures of basic and applied scientists, and more than two-thirds of them hold advanced degrees. Among the signers were 2,660 physicists, geophysicists, climatologists, meteorologists, oceanographers, and environmental scientists and 5,017 scientists whose fields of specialization were in chemistry, biochemistry, biology, and other life sciences.

So, the IPCC report is the work of 2,500 scientists who believe that mankind has had a significant influence on global warming, while the petition contains the names of more than 17,000 scientists who disagree, and nearly 8,000 of them work in fields of science related to climate studies. That is a substantial body of divergent opinion that at the very least ought tell us that science has only a dim picture of our climate and how it works, and we will be well advised to take no actions based upon what amounts to conjecture on the part of the pro-greenhouse-gas lobby, but keep studying and searching for the truth.

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