Global Warnings from the Ivory Tower

by Dr. Roy W. Spencer
Weather Questions
September 22, 2006

The Royal Society of London, England's premier scientific society, has sent a letter to Exxon-Mobil asking that the energy giant stop funding organizations which have "misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence." This unusual step seems strangely out of place for a scientific organization, and it belies a dogmatic adherence to a prevailing scientific theory that will, in the end, only make the Royal Society look a little foolish.

In the letter, Bob Ward, the official spokesman of the Royal Society says,

"It is now more crucial than ever that we have a debate which is properly informed by the science. For people to be still producing information that misleads people about climate change is unhelpful. The next IPCC report should give people the final push that they need to take action and we can't have people trying to undermine it."

So, while Mr. Ward states that it is "more crucial than ever that we have a debate," he apparently wants a certain group of scientists to decide which global warming information is misleading and which is not. I find that scientists on both sides of the issue have differing opinions on what kinds of evidence represent weak or strong support for their side.

The reason that a debate even exists is because it is so difficult to tie observed warming to human activities, versus other, natural causes of warming. Uniquely attributing some observed effect (e.g., warming) to a specific cause is the kind of conundrum that scientific research must continually struggle with. We might all agree on the observations, but what the observations mean is an entirely different matter.

This problem is particularly acute for global warming, where there is only one experiment, it is being conducted now, and it is not yet finished. We can't devise a laboratory experiment to see how the Earth will respond to slowly increasing levels of carbon dioxide. Certainly the current warming could be caused by manmade greenhouse gas emissions, but we know so little about natural climate variability that there is really no way to know whether a small part or a large part of our current warmth is manmade.

To confound scientists even further, a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters reveals that in only two years (2003-2005), over 20% of the globally averaged upper ocean warming that had occurred over the previous 48 years has now been cancelled out by a strong cooling trend. The reasons for this unexpected cooling are unknown. Computer models of the coupled ocean and atmosphere system do not produce such behavior. Are we to believe that warming is only caused by mankind, but that cooling is only caused by nature? Give me a break.

On the policy side, Mr. Ward's comments are even more surprising. Science has nothing to say about what policy actions should be taken on anything. The statement that "people...need to take action" and that "we can't have people trying to undermine it (action)" further suggests that he believes that the billions of dollars we are spending on new energy research is 'not taking action'.

The United Nations' orchestrated IPCC process that Mr. Ward refers to is, in my experience, led by some very opinionated scientists who are using the science to advance not only their own scientific views, but their political views as well. From what I have seen, these folks are misinformed on how economies work and the unintended negative consequences that their so-called 'solutions' to the global warming problem will cause.

How does the Royal Society explain scientists who do not buy into the global warming gloom-and-doom hype who have taken no money, directly or indirectly, from oil or coal companies? I wrote and spoke on my views as a so-called "skeptic" for over ten years for no fee. I have never been asked to write about something that I didn't believe in, and I know others who avoid any financial connection with non-governmental sources, if only to avoid any potential ad hominem accusations.

It should come as no surprise that there is no shortage of environmentalist exaggeration and half-truth that also "misleads people about climate change". After all, professional environmentalists and climate scientists might lose their jobs if the global warming problem was to ever go away.

As a result, everyone in the global warming debate is biased. People can expect that corporations will emphasize research that supports their opinions and goals, while environmental lobbying groups will do the same. Everyone has financial motives, and government-funded scientists and environmentalists acting as if they own the moral high ground is an increasingly tiresome pose.

Maybe the British dabbling in socialism has caused them to resort to this "government funded experts know best" mentality that has led to the Royal Society to resort to such a tactic. But here in the United States we still believe in a free flow of ideas, good and bad, all of which reflect biases. We let the people (and our elected representatives) decide what courses of action are best for the country. The Royal Society's letter is just one more example of why the public is so distrustful of scientists' pronouncements regarding environmental problems.

Dr. Roy Spencer is a principal research scientist for the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E) on NASA's Aqua satellite.