Monday, 30 May 2011

Professor Eric Wolf answers my 7 Global Warming Questions


Following the recent conference between global warming sceptics and alarmists Dr Eric Wolff attempted to sum up the areas on which there was agreement and on which there isn't. This was posted on Bishop Hill's site and produced a lot of discussion in the comments section (in which I participated). In turn I sent Dr Wolff my list of 7 questions which I had sent originally to Simon Singh (who had asked equivalent questions from his side of the debate) then Professor Jones (head of the British investigation and producer of the "hide the decline" email), Michael Mann (US inventor of the Hockey Stick theory now proven mathematically false), Sir Paul Nurse (head of the Royal Society), Sir John Beddington (Britain's Chief science Advisor), Alan Thorpe (head of the £450 million a year warming propagandist quango NERC who, some years ago, challenged sceptics to a public debate and disappeared when the challenge was accepted), Roger Harrabin (BBC Environmental correspondent and the public face of UK warming alarmism) a number of different people at the BBC, the editors of most national & several US papers, a number of leading MPs and every member of the Scottish Parliament, Realclimate & some other sites & last and least Ann Glover (Scotland's Chief Science Advisor and the one who said warming would increase day length). Since none of them had felt able to provide an answer supportive of the dangerous warming theory I thought they might also be indicative of points on which, if not exactly agreement, nobody on the alarmist side disagreed.
Despite somebody else at his facility taking umbrage (& I must admit some of the questions #4 in particular, were phrased in a more argumentative manner than necessary) Dr Wolff has indeed replied and given me permission to post here. I would like to thank him for doing so in a reasoned and constructive manner. I will probably give my comments next week but, with the exception of a few words on point 7 I think his comments should stand on their own today:
1 - Do you accept Professor Jones' acknowledgement that there has been no statistically significant warming since 1995?
*I have not heard this statement. However, because the climate system is inherently noisy, with alternating short runs of cold years and of warm years, there could NEVER be a statistically significant trend over just a few years. One can only determine a multidecadal trend by looking at the gradient over multi-decades. If you insist on taking trends over a decade, you will find periods with a positive gradient, a negative gradient or flat, but none of them significant. This was exactly my point about the analogy with months. There will quite certainly be a warming trend in temperature between January and July, but you will certainly find periods of 10, perhaps even 20 days, that have no, or even a negative, gradient.
2 - Do you accept that the rise in CO2 has improved crop growth by around 10% & that the consequent influence on world hunger is more beneficial than any currently detectable destructive action of alleged global warming?
*I am not an agricultural scientist, and have not looked into this, but yes, in general increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are likely to increase crop yields. The second half of the question asks me to make a moral and economic value judgement. While I may have a view on it as a citizen, this has nothing to do with the science.
3 - Do you accept that the Hockey Stick, as originally presented by Mann and the IPCC contained calculations that were inconsistent with good science and that Mann's refusal to make calculations and algorithms available for checking were inconsistent with scientific principle?
*The Mann reconstruction was a first attempt at doing an exceptionally difficult job. There are now numerous other attempts (shown in IPCC AR4) which all tell roughly the same story, but that have suggested better ways of doing some aspects of the job. This is how science works - someone does their best, then someone else comes along and shows you how to do it better.
4 - Do you accept that many claims from people and organisations on the alarmist side, from Al Gore's claim that South Sea islands had already been abandoned due to rising sea levels and Pachauri's claim that any dispute that the Himalayan glaciers will have melted by 2025 was "voodoo" are wholly, completely and totally untruthful and would have to be openly denounced by anyone on the alarmist side who has any trace of honesty?
*There was clearly an error in the IPCC WGII report regarding Himalayan glaciers. This has been acknowledged as soon as the error was recognised. Even one error in 3000 pages is unacceptable, no disagreement from me on that. I am less clear why you are asking a scientist to comment on a film by a politician; I have never cited this film as a source for my science and I don't plan to.
5 - Do you accept that there are a number of geoengineering solutions which arithmetically can be shown would work (including stratospheric dust, the geritol solution or even just replacing CO2 burning with nuclear power) which would work at a small fraction of the cost of the war against fire, or in the case of nuclear, at negative cost?
*There are definitely geoengineering solutions that might theoretically work. Much more research will be needed to assess whether they can be implemented at reasonable cost and without excessive side effects. But yes, they are certainly among the options that have to be considered. My view is that all different energy options should also be considered, and may be needed: but this is again a personal view not a scientific one.
6 - Do you accept that the refusal of alarmists to denounce fraud on their side, or even its active support or covering up, detracts from the credibility of the entire movement?
*No scientist I know would accept fraud. Luckily so far no fraud has been proven in climate science. I don't know many alarmists, and I don't know what movement you are referring to.
7 - Of the alleged "consensus" - can you name 2 scientists, out of the roughly 60%, worldwide who are not paid by the state, who support catastrophic warming & if not can you explain how something can be a consensus when no member of a subset of 60% of the alleged consenting, consent?
*There are several problems with the question as written. Firstly, I assume you are asking whether people support the idea that significant warming will take place (not whether they want it to happen). I also can name only a very few scientists who would say "catastrophic". I don't really know many private companies that carry out climate science, so I am not sure how one should compare these two groups. However, I frequently speak to ordinary scientists in private companies who seem happy to accept the points I made in the left hand column of the original post on Bishop Hill, including the warming range projected in the studies cited by IPCC, which I assume is what you are asking. They are not however people who consider themselves experts on climate, so they would not expect to be making public pronouncements, nor to be asked to be part of a consensus. However, if you really want two names of people who have had a major stake in the oil industry in particular, then Lord Oxburgh (formerly Shell Chairman) and Bryan Lovell (formerly Chief Sedimentologist and Exploration Manager with BP) would be a good start.
Professor Eric Wolff FRS
British Antarctic Survey, Science Leader (Chemistry and Past Climate) at British Antarctic Survey
On point 7 Lord Oxburgh is not salaried by government but as boss of a wind turbine company does benefit from government subsidies, indeed his.“direct financial interest in the outcome” has been a cause of complaint over his appointment as chair of the climategate enquiry. I am however both surprised and heartened to see that there is general scientific agreement on both sides, with only very few scientists dissenting that claims of "catastrophe" are unwarranted (though I had, a couple of weeks ago been told something similar elsewhere). That seems to allow far more space for rational debate than many politicians and news media allow.
I welcome comments but lets keep them courteous. I am perfectly capable of giving and getting robust comments when required but this is part of a scientific discussion in which both sides are on their best behaviour.

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