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Dave Summers

Dave Summers

David (Dave) Summers is a Curators' Professor Emeritus of Mining Engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology (he retired in 2010). He directed the…

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The Climate Change Controversy Continues

There are a couple of controversial items that have made it into the mainstream press recently that seem to have stirred a little controversy, and which are worth at least a mention.

The first was the Opinion piece in the WSJ back in Januuary in which 16 scientists wrote that there was no need to panic over Global Warming. They note, in their letter:

Alarmism over climate is of great benefit to many, providing government funding for academic research and a reason for government bureaucracies to grow. Alarmism also offers an excuse for governments to raise taxes, taxpayer-funded subsidies for businesses that understand how to work the political system, and a lure for big donations to charitable foundations promising to save the planet. Lysenko and his team lived very well, and they fiercely defended their dogma and the privileges it brought them.

Speaking for many scientists and engineers who have looked carefully and independently at the science of climate, we have a message to any candidate for public office: There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to "decarbonize" the world's economy. Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically.

Their letter received a response from a group that included some of the more prominent (and funded) of the climate change advocates, which avoided the discussion of funding, but rather spoke to the eminence of those who are forecasting gloom.

Do you consult your dentist about your heart condition? In science, as in any area, reputations are based on knowledge and expertise in a field and on published, peer-reviewed work. If you need surgery, you want a highly experienced expert in the field who has done a large number of the proposed operations.

You published "No Need to Panic About Global Warming" (op-ed, Jan. 27) on climate change by the climate-science equivalent of dentists practicing cardiology. While accomplished in their own fields, most of these authors have no expertise in climate science. The few authors who have such expertise are known to have extreme views that are out of step with nearly every other climate expert. This happens in nearly every field of science. For example, there is a retrovirus expert who does not accept that HIV causes AIDS. And it is instructive to recall that a few scientists continued to state that smoking did not cause cancer, long after that was settled science.

(You will note the little unsubtle ad hominem at the end.)

The original authors have now replied. I will quote the reply under the fold, but the first part of their response points out that, for major surgery, it is often best to get a second opinion, and to look at the record of the proposed scientists. They then put up a graph of the accuracy of the IPCC predictions for temperature rise, which I thought worth repeating.

Global Temp, Actual .v. Projected
IPCC projections for temperature rise, against reality. (WSJ)

The response begins thus:

We agree with Mr. Trenberth et al. that expertise is important in medical care, as it is in any matter of importance to humans or our environment . . . . . . . . . . In this respect, an important gauge of scientific expertise is the ability to make successful predictions. When predictions fail, we say the theory is "falsified" and we should look for the reasons for the failure.

They point out that the heat that was to have raised the temperature has now been suggested as having gone, instead, into the oceans, but point out that there is no evidence to sustain that theory.

They note that the Earth has been warming since the Little Ice Age (for which there is much evidence) and prior to the LIA there was the Medieval Warming Period, and before it the Holocene Climate Optimum, neither of which can have been caused by greenhouse gases but which instead point to a natural cycling of temperature, which current science has not disproved as a cause of the current warming period. And they also express concern about the statement that "decarbonisation would drive decades of economic growth."

Of course a wind farm, or solar farm employs significantly less workers than a coal mine (though arguably more than an oil or gas well - though not if one includes the refineries - since when it gets to power station levels both should surely balance out). I rather suspect that this is not the end of the discussion, and that the debate is starting to get a little more public exposure than it has been able to achieve in the past.

In passing I should note the small furore about the release of some of the documents from the Heartland Institute, mastered by one Peter Gleick, who was a MacArthur Fellow, has confessed to dishonestly obtaining and then releasing them. Not apparently that this is stopping the climate change advocates from pointing out the money that the Heartland Foundation has (though virtually none report on the relatively roughly hundredfold larger size of the sums of money being put into work that advocates climate change - but with money comes power and access, and the Heartland group has much less). I guess just because you're a recognized genius doesn't mean that you can't do stupid things.

However, the other thing that is worth a comment is that there seems to be a growing recognition that biofuels may not be the saviour of the atmosphere that they have been purported to be. Apparently the Friends of the Earth have issued a report which indicates that switching to biofuels won't have much effect on cleaning up the air, in fact the switch may make things worse. At the same time the switch may cost drivers in Europe something on the order of $24 billion a year. And in the process of looking into the topic there is another new report (unfortunately behind a paywall) which suggests that much of this was known before the regulations were put in. Bishop Hill has a post on the report, which suggests that some un-named, but central and powerful individual, was able to manipulate the EU into making the moves that have led to the adoption of the 10% biofuel requirement, without adequate consideration of the evidence. Apparently none of the non-supportive data was made available. I wonder why that sounds familiar?

And in passing, and closure, I wrote, in the past about Dr. Hansen's predictions of global warming that were one of the seminal events that got the climate change movement the financial success that it has since achieved. It is interesting to take the graph he used, and add some of the data from the plot above. It would appear that more than one computer model has been falsified. Because Dr. Hansen's models seem to use a different zero, I have slightly adjusted the values from the curve above to extend the data on actual temperatures relative to those predicted. You can see that they are starting to fall below the values that Dr. Hansen predicted would only be achieved if there was a radical reduction in carbon dioxide and the greenhouse gases - which hasn't happened, and so would perhaps indicate that the effects of said gases are less than he was predicting.

Projected Temperature Rise
Projected temperature rise anticipated by Dr Hansen (Dire Predictions)

By. Dave Summers

David (Dave) Summers is a Curators' Professor Emeritus of Mining Engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology (he retired in 2010). He directed the Rock Mechanics and Explosives Research Center at MO S&T off and on from 1976 to 2008, leading research teams that developed new mining and extraction technologies, mainly developing the use of high-pressure waterjets into a broad range of industrial uses. While one of the founders of The Oil Drum, back in 2005, he now also writes separately at Bit Tooth Energy.

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  • Dana Blankenhorn on February 23 2012 said:
    If 4 out of 5 dentists recommend you ignore your hypertension, are you going to do it? Or are you going to listen to your cardiologist?

    That's what this "controversy" represents. These 16 "climate scientists" ain't. Only two have ever had a peer-reviewed paper published.

    There is no "scientific" controversy here. There is, however, a "political" controversy. That's different. It's created by and for a particular economic interest threatened with having to pay the full cost of what it's producing.
  • Bob Smith on February 23 2012 said:
    The graphs presented here all show rising global temperatures. It would be really great if there was no problem here but there is.
  • Mel Tisdale on February 24 2012 said:
    The problem here is that the public just sees scientists disagreeing between themselves on the issue of climate change. From that one can point to a lack of political will to make the awkward decisions that are becoming more urgent with every day that passes.

    To many members of the public, scientists are all the same, either clever or stupid or some degree between those extremes. They think their views on any scientific topic to be of equal value, regardless of the scientific subject. What we have here is the clowns disagreeing with the lion tamers on how to control big furry members of the cat family. To the public it is just members of the circus disagreeing between themselves and to the politicians it is not a vote winner, so best ignored.

    We have to realise that there will come a time, indeed it may have already passed, when it will be impossible to halt the temperature rise and all we can do is try and slow it down. This point is called a tipping point. By way of illustration, imagine driving over the brow of a hill on a road that is covered in sheet ice. There is a tipping point after which it is impossible to stop the car and all you can do is do wait until you reach the bottom of the hill and hope you don't hit anything on the way.

    These tipping points occur because there are positive feedback mechanisms. An example of one such feedback mechanism is the release of methane from melting permafrost, This methane reinforces the warming that has caused its release in the first place and so causes the rate of release to speed up.

    Unless we act to combat climate change before we reach the tipping point, we will be committing future generations to a life that will almost certainly be far worse that it would be without climate change. Sadly it will also mean the loss of life for many. Tipping points do not make their presence known with a fanfare of trumpets, or have massive signposts with ‘Here be dragons’ category warnings. They pass in silence, their location secret. A bit like Peak Oil, we will only know after the point is passed.

    All the temperature sets show an inexorable rise in global temperatures since the industrial revolution. We have now reached the stage where we are losing 150, let me repeat: one hundred and fifty, cubic miles of ice each year. Small wonder that sea levels are rising.

    Addressing what we do or don’t do about climate change, the question this generation has to face up to is this: Do we have the right to risk the welfare of future generations? Again on the same topic, there is another question we need to ask: Do we want to endanger the wellbeing of our children and grandchildren? Any difference in attitude towards the two answers, let alone whether they agree, reflects a difference in our humanity. I find it telling that in America the Republican Party most stresses its Christian credentials, yet it most rejects taking action to combat climate change. ‘Hypocrisy’ is hardly a strong enough word to describe such behaviour and ‘Christian’ certainly does even come close.

    It doesn’t matter whether climate change is human in origin or not. You don’t refuse to steer round an iceberg because it is not man-made. It is not disputed that Carbon Dioxide and other greenhouse gases cause the temperature to rise. It is irresponsible folly not to do our utmost to curb emissions of them into the atmosphere. It is not as though we won’t benefit. Extreme weather events are becoming more commonplace, and wouldn’t it be a good idea to reduce pollution? The current objection to action seems to go along the lines of: ‘What if we clean up the planet and it is all a hoax?’ Need I say more?

    For anyone reading this who is still in doubt, I recommend skepticalscience.com as an excellent source of information on the subject.
  • LA on March 21 2012 said:
    To elaborate on Mel's post, mainstream scientists are not in debate about climate change, rather, there is consent that the earth is warming as a result of human activities that increase concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Individual, so called, scientists, who more often than not are funded by oil and gas companies such as Exxon Mobile, are the ones who try to confuse the general public. Excellent direct data can be found on NASA's website. For example:



    Also from NASA: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzKgLVidLG4
  • Gillian on March 22 2012 said:
    So what's Dave saying? That everything is hunky-dorey and fossil fuels are lovely?

    As Bob said, Dave's graphs show that global temps are rising. Dave doesn't mention that --

    > sea levels are rising
    > oceans are acidifying
    > ice sheets are melting
    > permafrost is melting

    Instead, he's playing along with the view that your dentist can advise you on hypertension (thanks Dana).

    Every national science institute on the planet endorses the mainstream science. I want govt policy based on mainstream science, not on fringe dwellers or vested interests.
  • Jake on August 18 2012 said:
    Who cares if global warming is the cause of climate change or not. If we take measures to prevent an increase in global warming and it dosent exist, we will still get a healthier environment, less polution, better air quality, etc. and if it does exist then we will benefit even more

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