How will current elected officials influence climate change and what does that mean for our country?
I had a chance to interview Peter Ward about climate change to learn.
Why is climate change still a debatable topic?
Because the science is not settled. The United Nations formed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988 not to determine the cause of global warming, but to develop a consensus among scientists concerning greenhouse-warming theory so that political leaders would agree to take the expensive actions necessary to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. This strategy paid off on December 12, 2015, when political leaders meeting in Paris agreed to take action based on this consensus—perhaps the biggest consensus ever forged among scientists.
The problem is that science is not done by consensus or by popular vote. Science thrives on debate. As Michael Crichton said in 2003, “The work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world.” “The most famous scientists in history are famous precisely because they disagreed with the consensus.” The science of climate change has advanced a great deal since 1988. There is growing evidence that greenhouse-warming theory may be mistaken.
What is most surprising is that scientists have never demonstrated greenhouse-warming theory in an experiment either in the laboratory or in the field. Experiments are fundamental to the scientific method. Such an experiment could be done relatively quickly and at low cost, but scientists are so enamored with their consensus, they refuse to consider the possibility that there could be any problem with their favored theory. The only experiment documented in the scientific literature was done in 1900 by a famous physicist, Knut Ångström, who showed in two different ways that increases in greenhouse-gas concentrations do not appear to have much effect warming air.
How does climate change get politicized?
Scientists observe and try to understand what climate change is occurring, how it might change in the future, and what can be done about it. Politicians then need to decide what to do about it, how much such action would cost, and whether the benefits of this action are worth the expense. Good public policy needs to be based on sound science. Some scientists, many business leaders, many political leaders, and others are not convinced that there is a global warming problem, that we know what actions to take, or that the value of these actions is worth the expense.
How will the new administration affect environmental policy?
The Trump administration has made it clear that they consider jobs and the economy to be far more important than climate change or environmental restrictions.
What are some surprises about climate change?
The biggest surprise is that greenhouse-warming theory may not only be mistaken, it may not be physically possible. It turns out that scientists and their climate models may not be calculating radiant energy correctly. Greenhouse warming theory is based on an assumption about radiation made in 1865 that, much to the surprise of most scientists today, may not be correct. Scientists need to demonstrate by a clear, reproducible experiment that greenhouse-gas theory actually explains reality.
The second biggest surprise is that climate change throughout Earth history can be explained in detail by depletion of the ozone layer caused by manufactured CFC gases from 1970 to 1998 and otherwise caused by volcanic eruptions. When the ozone layer is depleted, more ultraviolet-B radiation reaches Earth, warming Earth. This very “hot” radiation is what causes sunburn, skin cancer, and damages DNA. Ozone is depleted by trace amounts of chlorine gases when they reach the lower stratosphere, 7 miles above Earth. The greatest depletion of ozone ever observed followed the eruption of Pinatubo volcano in 1991, the largest volcanic eruption since 1912.
There are two fundamentally different types of volcanic eruptions. Big explosive volcanic eruptions like Pinatubo explode water and sulfur dioxide into the lower stratosphere where they form an aerosol or mist that disperses and reflects sunlight causing net global cooling. Big effusive volcanic eruptions, on the other hand, do not form aerosols so that the ozone depletion causes global warming. In August 2014, the volcano Bárðarbunga in Iceland began extruding black basaltic lava flows, which in 6 months covered an area of 33 square miles, the size of Manhattan. This was the highest rate of basalt extrusion since 1783, but most people have not heard of this eruption because it was in a remote area and did not interfere with European air travel. This eruption appears to be the cause of rapid global warming making 2015 and then 2016 the hottest years since thermometers were invented.
Periods of warming throughout Earth history are contemporaneous with periods of effusive basalt extrusion and the amount of warming is related to the area covered by the lavas. The largest such eruption 252 million years ago, covered an area in Siberia equivalent to 87% of the contiguous United States, causing major warming and the largest mass extinction known throughout Earth history.
Thus humans probably caused global warming by manufacturing CFCs starting in the late 1960s, but stopped the increase in warming by 1998 after passing the Montreal Protocol limiting such manufacturing. Otherwise volcanoes rule climate change. There is no need for greenhouse gases to play any significant role.
Bio: Dr. Ward worked 27 years with the United States Geological Survey as research geophysicist, branch chief, and program manager. He helped develop and manage a major national research program, chaired a committee at the White House, testified before Congress, worked on a committee for Vice President Gore, published more than 50 scientific papers, and won two national awards for explaining science to the general public. He retired in 1998, working intensely for the past decade trying to resolve several enigmatic observations related to climate change.