A Meteorologist’s Perspective On The Denial of Climate Change

Mike Balshaw is a retired meteorologist with over 40 years experience.  He recently sent in this excerpt from a Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society newsletter, in response to the ongoing debate over climate change.  I am happy to post it here, with Mike’s permission:

Subject: Countering the Skeptics on Global Warming

I believe the following will help Blog readers in recognizing and countering “the skeptics”.

As the Copenhagen talks approached, an organized campaign of misinformation by skeptics intensified, and most recently included paid radio advertisements across the country. As a retired meteorologist, I recognize my responsibility, as a member of the scientific community and as a concerned parent and grandfather, to report and support truth in the science, in an effort to counter this stream of misinformation and distortion of climate science. Why? Because I believe these so called skeptics are deliberately attempting to misinform and confuse the public. They know that most humans are reluctant to be proactive when in doubt or confused.

The skeptics’ primary objective appears to be to simply keep the public and politicians uncertain regarding “human-causes” of climate change, the current global warming trend and the urgent need for reductions in our global energy and environmental practices that increase carbon dioxide and related gas pollutants in the atmosphere throughout the world.

Some of their favourite misleading or untruthful claims are:

1) That there is huge debate in the scientific community concerning the link between greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through burning fossil fuels and global warming.

In fact, there is no such debate among scientists. Evidence for this was summarized in an invited essay in the 03 Dec. 2004 issue of Science Magazine (www.sciencemag.org), titled “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change”, by Naomi Oreskes of the Dept. of History and Science Studies, Univ. of California. Oreskes analyzed 928 abstracts published in refereed journals between 1993 and 2003 containing the words “climate change”. Of all these abstracts, not one single paper disagreed with the consensus view. In fact, 75% explicitly or implicitly accepted the consensus view that “GHGs are directly responsible for most present global warming”, and the other 25% dealt with analysis methods or paleoclimate and took no position whatsoever. That hardly reflects great scientific debate on the GHG-warming link, and the evident solidarity among climate scientists is still very strong, even though different studies may differ somewhat on the degree of warming, timing, or the big uncertainty of how future GHG emissions will evolve.

2) That the main cause of climate change is changes in radiation from the sun.

Although true over many millennia, this is simply not true for the present rapid warming of our climate over just a few decades. In fact, incoming solar radiation (insolation) has actually decreased slightly over the past 50 years, the period during which we have experienced rapid warming.

3) That climate scientists are unwilling to debate the science of human-induced global warming.

This statement does not even deserve a response, because skeptics rarely attend our conferences or publish in journals, but they delight in having debate in the relative safety of radio talk shows, usually where the talk show host is known to have strong leanings towards their views, or is not familiar enough to question their claims.

4) That there has not been any warming for the past ten years, and that it has actually been cooling.

This statement is false. Nine of the ten warmest years in the instrumented records (now including 2009) have all occurred in this 21st century, the 10th year being 1998. The long-term global temperature trend is positive, while the warmest year on record (globally) was 2005 (NASA’s GISS dataset).

5) That climate scientists attribute every anomalous event to global warming.

This is also false, although that assumption is often made by the media, lobby groups, and Hollywood and lay people, but not by climate scientists. Yet, the skeptics never fail to mention short-lived regional cooling events as proof of their global cooling claims.

6) That water vapour is the most important “Green House Gas”.

Here they fail to add the important fact that while this is true for maintaining the long-term natural global temperature balance (without it, Earth would theoretically be some 30°C cooler and might still be a mostly lifeless world), it is not true for present global warming, for the simple fact that there is a natural cap on atmospheric vapour determined by saturation vapour pressure, beyond which precipitation takes care of any sudden imbalance.

7) That model predictions about global warming have been wrong.

This is a totally unsubstantiated and incorrect statement. For example, the past ten 10-year average temperature anomalies have all been between +0.17 and +0.34 °C per decade, very consistent with model predictions reported by IPCC.

Readers with any doubts on these challenges should visit the NASA, NOAA or British Met Office web sites to see how these and other myths disseminated by the skeptics are easily discounted.

Extracted from the “Correspondence” contribution of:
Geoff Strong, Ardrossan, Alberta
In The Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS) Bulletin SCMO Vol.37, No.6 -180-

Christine’s note:  Geoff Strong is the Past President of the CMOS.  The CMOS’s position statement on climate change is available on its website (click here for the link).  The CMOS is, according to their website:

…the national society of individuals and organisations dedicated to advancing atmospheric and oceanic sciences and related environmental disciplines in Canada. The Society’s aim is to promote meteorology and oceanography in Canada, and it is a major non-governmental organisation serving the interests of meteorologists, climatologists, oceanographers, limnologists, hydrologists and cryospheric scientists in Canada.

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