Over the past few weeks, we have seen Hurricane Sandy initiate a new high water mark in the level of discussion and concern expressed about our society’s role in the changing climate – much as Sandy Hook has stirred up deep reflection on this nation’s love affair with guns.
Of course, entrenched interests who continue to gobble up huge fortunes from the status quo, even as we speak, are not, despite the turning tide of public opinion, going to give up without a fight. Indeed, their adherents continue to come crawling out of the woodwork at every turn. Recently, we described the efforts of groups like American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to try and turn back as much progress as they can on renewable energy in order to prolong our addiction to fossil fuels. After all, even one percent of billions, is still tens of millions.
Now we have another Alec, a climate skeptic named Alec Rawls, who gained access to the latest (fifth) IPCC draft report by posing as a reviewer and then posting an unauthorized copy of it on the web, despite having signed a confidentiality agreement that forbade him to do so. After cherry-picking the text, he used some out-of-context and unreviewed passages to suggest that some newly disclosed findings would undermine the science connecting human activity and rising temperatures.
In leaking the unauthorized copy, Rawls focuses his commentary on the phenomenon of solar forcings. He claims, “The admission of strong evidence for enhanced solar forcing changes everything. The climate alarmists can’t continue to claim that warming was almost entirely due to human activity over a period when solar warming effects, now acknowledged to be important, were at a maximum.”
Of course, no sooner was his release made public than fellow skeptics piled on, calling the disclosure a game-changer.
But, the fact of the matter is, it simply isn’t. Climate scientists have been talking about solar forcings, also known as the cosmic ray effect, all along, and have consistently agreed that they have little to no impact. This latest report is no different. Rawls, apparently seeing what he wanted to see, simply misread it.
When asked about Rawls’ assertions, Steve Sherwood, one of the authors of the report, said, “that’s completely ridiculous. I’m sure you could go and read those paragraphs yourself and the summary of it and see that we conclude exactly the opposite, that this cosmic ray effect that the paragraph is discussing appears to be negligible.”
This is the paragraph that Rawls highlighted:
“Many empirical relationships have been reported between GCR [galactic cosmic rays] or cosmogenic isotope archives and some aspects of the climate system. The forcing from changes in total solar irradiance alone does not seem to account for these observations, implying the existence of an amplifying mechanism such as the hypothesized GCR-cloud link. We focus here on observed relationships between GCR and aerosol and cloud properties.”
This talk of an “amplifying mechanism,” could be construed as an alternative explanation to the warming we have experienced. Except for the fact that another paragraph, which appears a few pages later (that Rawls fails to highlight), states otherwise.
“Although there is some evidence that ionization from cosmic rays may enhance aerosol nucleation in the free troposphere, there is medium evidence and high agreement that the cosmic ray-ionization mechanism is too weak to influence global concentrations of CCN [cloud condensation nuclei] or their change over the last century or during a solar cycle in any climatically significant way. The lack of trend in the cosmic ray intensity over the last 50 years provides another strong argument against the hypothesis of a major contribution of cosmic rays to ongoing climate change.”
Nice try, Mr. Smart Alec, but it appears that you will need to do a little more homework before you can overturn the world’s scientific consensus.
Speaking of homework, according to Rawls’ bio, he was a PhD candidate in economics at Stanford when some kind of moral imperative caused him to leave.
The IPCC has issued a statement in response to the leak, focusing more on the process than the content of the disclosure. They did point out, however, that, “The text that has been posted is not the final report.”
RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.
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