“Forget global warming. The cold, hard facts point to another threat on the horizon – severe cooling.” That’s the strapline over an opinion piece in yesterday’s Dominion Post business section (Sunspots spell end of climate myth), contributed by Bryan Leyland, one of the more vocal of our local climate cranks. It’s an astonishing piece, given a splash treatment by the paper. Consider this sentence, given prominence as a pull-out quote by the Post:
Researchers have discovered that warming since 1975 is not caused by greenhouse gases.
That’s news to me. It would be news to anyone with half a brain. So why then is this “fact” not on the front page of the Dom Post, or indeed the world’s newspapers? Because it’s not true. Leyland is making stuff up.
Leyland, you may recall, was one of the key players in The Listener/Hansford debacle earlier this year[1. A piece by Dave Hansford in The Listener’s Ecologic column pointing out the links between NZ’s climate cranks and US right wing think tanks drew complaints from Leyland and a blustering letter from the Heartland. Leyland was granted a right of reply, which I debunked here. Then things got messy… 😉 ]. As an “energy consultant”, he takes every opportunity to run an anti-global warming line[2. Amazingly, on the same day as his climate piece, he was quoted in a news item about the future of power generation under National: “Mr Leyland was certain National would drop the 10-year ban on new gas-fired power stations. “That is essential and urgent,” he said. There was also time to delay the emissions scheme because the world had been cooling, not warming, for the past two years.” So Leyland’s nonsense is reported as fact!]. His arguments are standard crank nonsense, presented with a certain Ã©lan that makes him media-friendly. Let’s have a look at the piece in more detail.
After a dig at a few NZ luminaries and the Kyoto protocol, he dives straight in to his argument:
The evidence is unequivocal. Measurable, let alone dangerous, manmade global warming is not happening, and is not likely to happen in the future. The major cause for concern is the possibility of severe cooling.
There are at least six errors of fact in that single paragraph.[3. â€¢ There is no evidence that the world is cooling, so there cannot be “unequivocal” evidence.
â€¢ Global warming is happening. The measurements are clear.
â€¢ It is, beyond any reasonable doubt, man-made.
â€¢ Both the amount and rate of expected global temperature increase will be dangerous.
â€¢ Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere continue to increase, and so further warming is not just likely, it’s inevitable.
â€¢ The possibility of severe cooling is – at best – a minor concern, and could only happen if a) the sun’s radiant energy decreased significantly, or b) something prevented that energy reaching the earth’s surface – such as increased vulcanism or a cloud of space dust drifting between the planet and the sun.]
He has the chutzpah to turn the IPCC’s statement that the evidence for global warming was “unequivocal” on its head. Otherwise, it’s the usual “warming’s stopped” rubbish, which has been repeatedly shown to be untrue. He embellishes his claim a little later:
Both surface temperature records and the much more accurate records from satellite observations show there was a brief warming period from 1975-98. Since then, the world has cooled and is now at the same temperature it was in 1995. Nobody knows when, or if, world temperatures might increase.
There’s a graph to support this claim (not shown on the web version), based on the University of Alabama’s UAH satellite “mid troposphere” temperature series. Of course most of the world’s life, including humans, live in the lower troposphere, but why Leyland selects this particular series is not explained. One might suspect that it better suits his argument. Leyland also demonstrates that he doesn’t understand the difference between weather and climate, or the statistics of dealing with data sets that have a lot of noise (weather) superimposed on a long term trend. But statistical naivetÃ© is not the worst of his errors.
Since the research for the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was completed in mid 2006, researchers have discovered that warming since 1975 is not caused by greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gas warming would be at a maximum 10,000m above the tropics.
Observations from balloons and satellites have shown that warming is not happening. Therefore greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are not a major factor in the world climate. This fact alone is sufficient to sink the manmade global warming hypothesis.
Actually, observations from balloons and satellites are consistent with model predictions, the latest research shows. Let’s be charitable, and assume Leyland hasn’t been keeping up. However, he can’t get away with his next leap of faith. To show that greenhouse gases are not a major factor in world climate, you need to re-write the basic physics of radiation and its transmission and absorption in the atmosphere. This alone should be sufficient to to sink the idea that Leyland knows what he’s talking about. Next up – the ritual swipe at computer models:
Computer-based climate models provide the only “evidence” supporting claims that the world is warming, that it will be dangerous, that there will be rapid rises in sea levels and the like, yet these same models failed to predict the temperature peak in 1998 and the steady cooling trend that set in from 2002.
It is obvious that the models have failed to predict major climatic events such as El Nino (1998) and La Nina (2007-08). The models are not an accurate representation of the world climate system and their input data is inaccurate, therefore their outputs are worthless. This fact alone is sufficient to sink the manmade global warming hypothesis.
I’m amazed that Leyland thinks that global climate models are the “only evidence” that the world is warming. There’s rather a lot of evidence in the temperature record, the melting of ice and snow, changes in the distribution of species, and so on – enough to occupy a substantial chunk of the IPCC’s Fourth Report. Seems a shame to ignore it.
He then demonstrates how little he understands the models and what they do. They project what climate might be like as greenhouse gas levels rise, but they do not (and were never designed to) forecast the El Nino/La Nina oscillation. This alone should be sufficient to to sink the idea that Leyland knows what he’s talking about.
But what’s this rising above Leyland’s horizon? It’s that fat old sun, of courseâ€¦
More evidence is gathering that the sun, not greenhouse gases, drives our climate. Records going back thousands of years show a close correlation between sunspots and climate. The theory is that sunspot- related effects influence the number of high-energy cosmic rays reaching the atmosphere and that these cosmic rays affect cloud formation. Very soon, a major experiment will be set up to test this theory. If it is shown to be correct, that alone will be sufficient to sink the hypothesis of manmade global warming.
This sun stuff has been debunked over and over again. No credible link between sunspot numbers and global temperature has ever been established, and any cosmic ray connection is – at best – tenuous in the extreme. Whatever the result of the experiment Leyland alludes to, real scientists still have to account for the radiation physics of greenhouse gases.
There have been very few sunspots over the past few years and the next sunspot cycle, 24, is beginning but weak. History tells us that such circumstances are associated with quite severe cooling, possibly similar to the little ice age. If this happens, the present financial upheavals will be exacerbated by reduced agricultural output, stormy weather and, possibly, famine.
Leyland is echoing some of the wilder fringes of climate scepticism here. The facts suggest he will be wildly wrong. The sun’s energy output does vary slightly over the 11 year solar (sunspot) cycle, and recent work indicates that this can produce a change in global average temperature of about 0.1C from peak solar output at the maximum of the cycle to the bottom of the trough. As Leyland says, we’re just starting a new cycle, so the sun’s energy output should rise over the next five or six years, warming the world a bit. At the same time, greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere are going to continue to rise, increasing the warming effect. “Severe cooling” is about as likely as Leyland admitting he’s wrong.
Taken as a whole, Leyland’s “comment” on climate science is about as wrong as it’s possible to be. To seasoned followers of the so-called “debate” there’s little new – a repackaging of talking points that have been repeatedly shown to be false. What’s remarkable is that a major newspaper should choose to run such a superannuated, fact-free argument and give it considerable prominence.
A few questions. Did the Dominion Post solicit the feature from Leyland? If so, why? Is the BusinessDay section running a pro-ACT agenda, or hoping to influence the policy direction of the new government? Is it acceptable for BusinessDay to carry material that is factually incorrect? Does the identification of the piece as “comment” give the writer the ability to basically lie in support of his argument, and the paper an excuse not to check facts? Why is Leyland not identified as member of the NZ climate cranks coalition?
There is a debate to be had about climate change and climate policy, but it’s not about the reality of the problem. With a new government being formed, you might expect one of NZ’s leading newspapers to offer a considered view of the options: instead they choose to allow Leyland to deny that any problem exists. To me, that speaks volumesâ€¦
[Hat tip to Carol, for sending me the printed article.]