A climate change game-changer

The first impulse of the global warmers is to brush off the leaked e-mails about fiddling numbers and silencing adversaries. The drumbeat of political and journalistic propaganda for "Copenhagen" took precious little notice of it. But like the frog in a pot, they're going to get boiled without even noticing until it's too late.

If the hacking was illegal it must be investigated. But it blew the whistle on a scandal of the first order and forces scientists to take a stand. Whatever their field or view of climate change, they know this wasn't proper science. It was bullying.

Of course bullies can be right. The global warming thesis could be correct even if some of its defenders manipulated data and behaved thuggishly. But such behaviour strongly suggests they were afraid to make their scientific case honestly and people are going to ask why. When they do they're going to find trouble a-plenty.

I suggest curious laymen start with Ian Plimer's Heaven and Earth: Global Warming the Missing Science. There's no using the "not peer reviewed" canard here; he's an award-winning professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and his book is a compilation of well-established facts.

I've struggled with how to present Heaven and Earth ever since I read it. I could pile up zingers like "That great ball of heat in the sky drives climate." But it would misrepresent the tone of the work, a masterful compilation of what we know about climate (and, more troublingly, what we don't). Thus his chapter "The Sun" not only exhaustively catalogues Sol's impact on warming and cooling the Earth, but details similar effects on Mars, Jupiter and Triton, which I trust not even Al Gore could blame on humans.

Plimer's only problem is the proverbial drink from a fire hydrant. Page after page of things like "There is a 25-month fluctuation of sun-spots and, superimposed on the 11-year cycle (Schwabe Cycle) and 22.2 year cycle (Hale Cycle), are other solar cycles (33 year Bruckner Cycle, 87-year Gleissberg Cycle, 210-year DeVries-Suess Cycle and the 1500 ± 500 year Dansgaard-Oeschger Cycle)" gets a little overwhelming. There's something in-your-face about 2,311 footnotes, and in places I felt he'd put everything he knows on file cards, sorted them into the best possible order then hit "Print."

In places we get more data than information. But I'd like to hear politicians and journalists who say the science is beyond question or compare skeptics to Holocaust deniers dispute Plimer's conclusion that "The main cycles that have driven past climate change on Earth are the Schwabe, Hale, Gleissberg and Dansgaard-Oeschger cycles. There are no reasons to suppose anything different for the future." When they're done, they can try to refute his meticulous detailing of the Earth's history or the chemistry and physics of glaciers, water and air.

If they fail, here's what remains. Climate has always been enormously variable. There is much we do not understand about Earth's frequent dramatic freezing and sudden warming, but what we do know does not support the alarmists' clichés. We have an enormous amount of data, and Plimer subjects us to most of it; to cite just one example, massive glaciation 450 million years ago happened with far more atmospheric CO2 than today. By the time he's done poking holes in the warmers' balloon, it's not just empty, it's shredded.

I do not say this is good news. Climate is not susceptible to study using the mathematical methods that have proved so fruitful in the past 500 years in chemistry, physics, optics and so on. That means we cannot predict events that might prove catastrophic. For instance, the warming at the end of the last Ice Age, which made civilization possible, suddenly and dramatically reversed 13,000 years ago. Earth plunged into the "Younger Dryas" deep freeze in less than 100 years, possibly in a single decade, and stayed there for about 13 centuries. Should such a thing happen now, mass death would be unavoidable. Will it? We just can't tell. The computer models can't even run known past data and predict the Younger Dryas. And if they can't predict the past, they certainly can't predict the future.

Plimer also shows that warmer periods have favoured civilization and colder ones have brought upheaval, war, death and the fall of Rome. That doesn't justify wreaking havoc on the environment. But it does remind us that we know of a huge number of temperature fluctuations that cannot be linked to man-made emissions of methane or CO2 and that the mighty climate predictors can't explain even when they're not employing some statistical "trick" to hide their existence.

Concern for the environment is a good thing. But there's no excuse for cooking the books on cooking the planet. And this time they won't get away with it.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson