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Monday, March 1, 2010
A different point of view on Climate Change
By Richard Fryer
 
Recently (November, 2009) Central Coast Family News published a two page article entitled “Climate
Change & Global Warming – The Science Behind It & Why It Matters” by Dr. Ray Weyman. This article
disturbed me as adding to the alarming predictions our media are so quick to publish. I believe this point of view distorts what we actually know as scientists, so I wrote a short reply. Central Coast Family News decided not to run this response.
 
I identify myself as a climate skeptic. I do not doubt that the earth is gradually warming. That process
appears to have been going on - with cycles of warming and cooling - since records began to be recorded in the mid 1800's - perhaps 1°F plus or minus over 150 years - and likely since the end of the little ice age according to records from Britain. 
 
Most local media carry a pretty uniform story about climate change - the risks, causes and possible cures. Other opinions are rarely heard - and perhaps rarely offered. I believe that responsible adults (especially parents and teachers) should make themselves aware of other points of view. My observation is that most media coverage falls into the 'gloom and doom' range, but any reasonable person must look at all sides.
 
So much is written about the behavior of the climate that it is certainly attractive to allow someone 'else' - perhaps the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to tell us what to believe. On this topic, however, it is risky to do so! The politicization of climate issues has taken us far into speculation and well away from consensus on facts.
 
The key questions are how large an impact is human behavior having on the climate and whether it is a
result of CO2 added to the atmosphere - primarily from using fossil fuels for energy.
 
The authors of the IPCC report have certainly pointed to a 'Carbon Footprint' as a cause of climate
change (hence AB 32 and the recent incredible EPA designation of CO2 as a pollutant). The reason you
don't see climate scientists on TV demonstrating the 'truth' of this connection is that they just don't have
one. They have a conjecture, and this is built into climate models. But the earth's climate system is
incredibly complex and interconnected. By comparison, the models are apparently oversimplified (one
climatologist says that "projections of future climate based on these models be viewed with much
caution").
 
The portion of the warming that is occurring that is a result of man's CO2 contribution MAY be
measurable but it certainly HAS NOT been measured. It seems as likely that it's 1% to 10% as that it's
50% or more. Other human impacts on the climate - aerosols (soot), reactive nitrogen, and land use
impacts such as agriculture - may turn out to be more important than CO2 emissions. These elements
and even climate features such as clouds are not in the models or included as a 'best guess' due to our limited data and understanding.
 
I am sympathetic with the problems faced by climate scientists. The 'climate signal' - that is, the 'real'
behavior of the climate (or net temperature increase) is very difficult to measure - even at a specific site.
Approximating a good 'value' for temperature shifts requires accounting for wide daily, seasonal and
weather influenced shifts at thousands of sites. Even time of day errors can mess up records. 
 
This figure is drawn from a current Journal of Climate article and is included only to show how noisy the
data is and how slight the temperature increase by comparison - and hence how difficult to derive
sweeping conclusions of causes. And this picture shows only the daily means - not the daily highs and
lows! (Side note - the author DID find that summers in the 1930's were unusually warm, and that
extremely harsh winters of the 19th century were moderating.) The net warming in this medium sized
Midwest college town (pop. about 52,000) over this period is less than 2 degrees F over 179 years!



Figure 1 - Daily mean temperatures in Manhattan Kansas from 1828 to 2009 (Journal of Climate article (in press)).
Climate scientists often use surface temperature records for analysis - that's the primary indicator in the
IPCC reports. Trends are quite difficult to establish - even at a single site, where local changes over the
years (additions of nearby buildings, growth of surrounding urban areas with factories and paved areas,
and even agricultural changes) can mask the tiny signal - which you remember may be about 1/100 of a
degree F over a year. Matt Kokkonen has recently pointed out that two NOAA weather stations in our
county are very poorly sited - yielding temperatures that are expected to be unreliable. And though
NOAA attempts to correct for this, the corrections themselves are obscure and have been shown to
sometimes be inaccurate to an extent that swamps the perceived warming.
 
Even so, you will have seen a variety of 'hockey stick' graphs that show temperature shooting up near the
end - just as the measured atmospheric CO2 curve shoots up. Several of the graphs that I am familiar
with have proven significantly inaccurate when critically examined by expert statisticians. You may know
that the key IPCC results provided by Briffa and Mann have both been shown to be somewhere between
misleading and just plain false. Even the Thompson ice core results relied upon in An Inconvenient Truth
that show a hockey stick in surface temperatures appear to have statistical problems - recent work shows
that Thompson's calibration method over a few cores do produce a hockey stick but a fuller set of cores
show almost none. In other words, the 'enormous increase(s) in temperature of the last half century'
referred to by Gore is probably just bad math! 
 
To sum up, given consistent, audited graphs, I think most people would conclude that the earth is
warming; that the trend is slight and has not changed much recently - the most recent 30 years looks little
different from many other 30 year periods!
 
I am quite disturbed by the scary quotes and tone of the media (and many others that urge extreme
action). The words used seem to be chosen to frighten (The earth is at a tipping point! The polar caps
are disappearing! California will turn to desert! Coastlines will be flooded! Coral reefs will dissolve in
acidic oceans!  Thousands of species are being extinguished!). None of these are realistic near term
threats – and may be wildly incorrect predictions! Why scare our kids when the science is still so far from
settled?
 
The California "Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006" (often called AB 32) is law and its economic
impact is expected to be very harmful to business - the hoped-for benefits are elusive. This nation's
House and Senate are currently deliberating a very intrusive and expensive cap-and-trade based
legislative package equally questionable in benefit. Even the prominent Dr. James Hansen of NASA
argued last December that congress' cap-and-trade legislative scheme is old, deceitful and ineffectual,
and he called most carbon offsets hokey. He sees the Copenhagen minimalist agreement as an
"opportunity to move to a more honest path.") The radical emphasis on CO2 reduction and cap-and-trade
legislation may be worse than useless - it may limit our ability to adapt and fight other causes that may
emerge. When has a big government program been terminated because it wasn't working?
 
You might ask - "What's wrong with being 'extreme' - isn't crying wolf worthwhile if it pushes the politicians
into action?" I think it's ALWAYS wrong to distort the facts no matter how urgently the need is felt. The
behavior of leading climate scientists in the 'climategate' fiasco has already harmed the image of climate
science. Science will be essential to solving many of man's problems in the future - scientists must be as
truthful as we know how to be! 
 
I would be happy to email a longer version of the article that includes extensive references - all derived
from standard climate journals. If you'd like a copy, ask at: anotherclimateview@gmail.com.
 
Richard Fryer worked at China Lake for the US Navy as a physicist and computer scientist for many
years. He has also taught Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at several colleges including a
few years at CalPoly. He has published several papers in these fields and has been a peer reviewer for
the Association of Computing Machinery. He has been a central coast resident for over 15 years.
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