Is the answer in the stars?

April 2, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

Flickr photo by Ken CampIn the interests of critical and reflective thinking, I decided to see for myself what the evidence might be against climate change. With global warming being the dominant narrative of the moment, maybe only a brave person would stand up and say “hey, maybe we’re wrong”.

Seems that Nigel Calder, former editor of New Scientist, fits that description. As we’ve heard, the IPCC declared that the rise in temperature since the mid-20th century is very likely due to man-made greenhouse gases. In a recent article, Calder challenges this view. He investigated the ‘fine print’ and found that scientists were 90% certain that temperatures would rise. But that leaves a 10% uncertainty figure.

Calder claims that about 20 years ago, the climate argument became politicized in favour of the climate change hypothesis and this led to research funding being blocked for scientists who might have a different opinion. Further, he suggests that the dominant narrative of climate change results in selective reporting: while the early arrival of migratory birds in spring suggests graphic evidence of the warming of northern lands in Europe; the billion-dollar loss of Californian crops to unusual frost, is regulated to a footnote. And while sea-ice has diminished in the Arctic since 1978, it has grown by 8% in the Southern Ocean.

Calder asks: “Why is east Antarctica getting colder?” It makes no sense at all if carbon dioxide is driving global warming“.

The rival hypothesis is that the sun drives climate changes more emphatically than greenhouse gases do. During the 20th Century, the so-called Modern Warming period, the sun went through a phase of hyperactivity but is now at a high, yet level, state. Solar physicists warn of possible global cooling should the sun return to a low activity phase as it did during the Little Ice Age 300 years ago.

Sun hyperactivity is apparently cyclical, with the Medieval Warming being the last time it was experienced. The Chinese population doubled then and in Europe the Vikings happily went about their raids on unsuspecting populations. In 2003, a long-forgotten pass in the Swiss Alps was discovered, which was used whenever the world was warm and would allow easy crossing.

So the question becomes: is there evidence for alternating periods of warm and cold cycles; linked to solar activity that controls our climate; and going on long before the Industrial era?

More research into this interesting question revealed a new book, just published March 2007 by Henrik Svensmark, a weather scientist at the Danish National Space Centre, and co-author Nigel Calder. The book, The Chilling Stars: The New Theory of Climate Change, presents an alternative theory – that sub-atomic particles from exploded stars have more effect on the climate than man-made CO2. Cosmic rays from the exploding stars create clouds. During the 20th Century, cosmic rays were deflected by the Sun’s hyperactivity. Fewer cosmic rays meant fewer clouds and a warmer world. A reduction in cloud cover allows more solar radiation to penetrate and heat the atmosphere and since the sun is still active, we continue to experience a warmer climate. Periods of low solar activity lead to a cooler climate.

Their argument is that nature, ruled by the sun and the stars, is the cause of climate change rather than man and his industrial activities. And it would seem that Svensmark and Calder are motivated by the need to seek trustworthiness in science.

Mmmmm…I have this book coming out to me from Amazon at super express speed! but in the meantime, I decided to look into this further to see if Svensmark and Calder are a couple of lone mavericks on the scientific landscape, or whether there are other scientists with similar alternative theories.

Over at the University of Ottawa in Canada, Professor Jan Veizer suggests that events in our solar system are playing a far greater role in the earth’s warming process than greenhouse gases. He asks two questions: 1) Why the large temperature increase prior to the early 1940s, when 80% of the cumulative anthropogenic carbon dioxide input is post World War II? and; (2) why the subsequent three decade long cooling period despite the rise in carbon dioxide? The answer appears to coincide with the theory of Svensmark and Calder – solar rays vary in intensity and volume; and the magnetic field around the earth blocks the rays.

Every 11 years, there is a solar cycle when the sun undergoes a period of increased magnetic and sunspot activity called the ‘solar maximum’ followed by a quiet period called the ‘solar minimum’. And over the last 25 years, the sun may have been going through a solar maximum phase.

Another theory relates to the albedo of the Earth. Albedo means the ratio of the light reflected by a body to the light received by it. So the moon has a very low albedo (0.07), while Venus has a high albedo (0.60). This theory suggests that the albedo of the Earth has decreased (the planet is getting darker and absorbing more radiation) and this warms the planet.

Referring to Al Gore’s highly influential Oscar-winning film, An Inconvenient Truth, Professor Bob Carter of the Marine Geophysical Laboratory at James Cook University, Australia states his view:”Gore’s circumstantial arguments are so weak that they are pathetic. It is simply incredible that they, and his film, are commanding public attention.” It appears that Carter is not a lone skeptic but one of hundreds of highly qualified non-governmental, non-industry, non-lobby group climate experts who dispute the hypothesis that human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are causing significant global climate change. It all seems to be a question of knowledge: many scientists defending the global warming hypothesis are not climate experts. They may be, for example, biologists who study the effects of changes in the local environment where they conduct their studies.

And we know from complexity science that nothing is predictable. While scientists play around with their computer modeling and future climate scenarios, we also know that these models can be very wrong because modeling is all about scenarios and not predictions.

Paleoclimatologist, Professor Tim Patterson, told the Commons Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development in 2005:”There is no meaningful correlation between CO2 levels and Earth’s temperature over this [geologic] time frame. In fact, when CO2 levels were over ten times higher than they are now, about 450 million years ago, the planet was in the depths of the absolute coldest period in the last half billion years.” Guess he has specialist knowledge!

Patterson seems to concur with Svensmark and Calder by saying there is very good correlation between Earth’s temperature and natural celestial phenomena such as changes in the brightness of the Sun.

Another scientist with specialist knowledge, marine researcher, Dr. Boris Winterhalter, in response to dramatic pictures of Antartic glaciers collapsing loudly into the sea states: “The breaking glacier wall is a normally occurring phenomenon which is due to the normal advance of a glacier”.

So are we seeing a politization and Hollywoodization of global warming – a dominant narrative? If we look back over history, dominant narratives have abounded and controlled access to alternative knowledge. The medieval worldview, for example, was a conflation of God, Greek classical thought and Aristotelian-Ptolemaic science with God at the apex. The grand narrative rested on religious foundations and in a world at the mercy of bubonic plague, inadequate hygiene, religious wars and persecutions, the controllers of the grand narrative, the Church and its priests, could explain to the masses the meaning of life and death. In the medieval world, no sub-plots were permitted; no other narratives of experience could exist; no other gods could enter the pantheon.

These were pre-Gutenberg times, where control of the Bible lay with the religious elite who had the power of interpretation. The uneducated focused on survival and avoiding Purgatory.

Then in the 1400s, technological upheaval and disruption occurred. Johann Gutenberg developed the modern printing press and helped to wrestle control of knowledge away from the religious elite. With the printing of books, pamphlets and treatises, the masses could now access the grand religious narrative and overlay their own interpretations, views and opinions. There was an awakening from captivity and the dominant narrative of the time became vulnerable.

Sorry….slight foray into history :)- but by exploring the alternative theories to global warming and reading about what could be the shutting out of specialist knowledge – I am wondering if we are in the grip of a new grand narrative?

Look carefully at the photo accompanying this post. Rather like the very clever little red fox hiding in the centre of the pack of hounds, I wonder whether those proclaiming an alternative climate change theory might need to hide out amongst the pack for awhile! I found this photo on Flickr while looking for a particular dog and I think it’s the most beautiful image I’ve seen in a long time.


Entry filed under: Climate Change, Knowledge Management.

Is there life beyond cyberspace? The wonderful world of cartograms

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