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Schmitt and Happer manufacture doubt

Posted on 15 May 2013 by Dumb Scientist

Dr. Harrison Schmitt and Dr. William Happer, who have scientific backgrounds but are not climate scientists, just wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal. Despite their claims, global warming continues. This continued warming is confirmed by GRACE, ICESat, InSAR, GPS, and camera observations of ice sheet mass loss, which absorb heat without warming as they melt. The continued warming is also confirmed by global sea ice loss, which absorbs heat without warming as it melts. The continued warming is also confirmed by increasing global ocean heat content, which absorbs heat without warming the surface... until it’s released in an El Niño.



They also dispute that humans are very likely responsible for most of the warming since 1950. But solar activity hasn't increased significantly since 1950, and studying "complicated cycles of the oceans and atmosphere" is why NOAA, NASA, and the National Academy of Sciences exist. They're saying that the rate at which heat escapes Earth has slowed due to our emissions of heat-trapping gases like CO2.

If Schmitt and Happer want to dispute mainstream science, they should do so in a peer-reviewed science journal, not The Wall Street Journal. Neither of them have published any peer-reviewed articles on climate science, despite being experts in other fields.

Then they dispute that global warming is a problem, by mentioning that CO2 levels were much higher in the distant past... when alligators roamed the Arctic, and most of Florida was underwater. That climate was radically different than the one our civilization is adapted to, and CO2 is already higher than it's been in millions of years.

Scientists are actually concerned about the unprecedented rate of our CO2 emissions. The CO2 emissions rate from the Siberian Traps eruption (which lasted a million years) caused warming and ocean acidification that preceded the end-Permian extinction, 250 million years ago. Today, our CO2 emissions rate is ten times faster than that of the Siberian Traps.

Schmitt and Happer mention that plants have fewer stomata when CO2 levels are higher, allowing them to conserve water. This is an example of a negative feedback which reduces the biosphere's sensitivity to changes in CO2, but they ignore larger positive feedbacks where CO2-induced warming stresses ecosystems. For example, the 2010 Russian wheat crisis shows that our crops aren't drought-proof despite CO2 levels unseen in millions of years.

They compare the natural biosphere to an artificial greenhouse where humans work hard to reduce competition with weeds and pests. Another lesson from the ancient climate is the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, when rapid CO2 emissions caused warming that preceded marine extinctions, and a spike in leaf damage caused by insects. Kudzu, pine beetles, desert locusts and jellyfish thrive when it warms. Rice doesn't: it grows 10% less with every 1.8°F of night-time warming.

In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences and a dozen other science academies told world leaders that “the need for urgent action to address climate change is now indisputable.”

Scientists aren't the only ones concerned about risk management: large insurance companies like Munich Re, Swiss Re and Allianz have already noticed increased damages that are partially due to climate change. In 2010, the Pentagon said “Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.”



World leaders ignored them. So here I'll speak as a volunteer for the Citizens Climate Lobby rather than as a scientist:

Australia and British Columbia have already stopped their coal plants from treating our atmosphere like a free sewer. They did this by charging the fossil fuel industry for their carbon pollution, then returning these fees to citizens as dividends.

Republicans Art Laffer and Bob Inglis agree that this revenue-neutral approach is fiscally conservative. Instead of taxing something we want more of, like income, let’s tax something we need less of: carbon pollution.

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Comments 1 to 6:

  1. The biggest shame with all of this is that I was a kid in the 60s, and grew up in wonder of the space program, and idolised all the astronauts.

    And now I see that at least one of the people I idolised is - not too put to fine a point on it - a fool.


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  2. Their second sentence makes it obvious that it was motivated by political/idealological considerations, rather than being driven by the science. They refer to a "... the  single-minded demonization of this natural and essential atmospheric gas by advocates of government control of energy production ...".

    How people with "credentials" like that can write such nonsense is incredible.  

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  3. DS, re: solar activity, your response to Schmitt and Happer points to the obviously directly relevant fact that solar activity hasn't increased significantly since 1950, while global temperature has.  

    I have also read that the sun has an extremely slow trend of increasing intensity, e.g., from the Wikipedia entry on the geologic temperature record:

    "Some evidence does exist however that the period of 2,000 to 3,000 million years ago was very generally colder and more glaciated than the last 500 million years. This is thought to be the result of solar radiation approximately 20% lower than today.[citation needed]"


    "According to standard solar theories, the sun will gradually have increased in brightness as a natural part of its evolution after having started with an intensity approximately 70% of its modern value."  

    My question is this - what do we know about the solar irradiance at the last time the atmosphere was at 400 ppm, which a brief web search tells me was during the Pliocene epoch, about 3.2-5 million years ago?  If TSI was significantly lower then, wouldn't that tend to suggest that the climate forcing from 400 ppm now will be even stronger than it was the last time, also tending to undermine the denier argument that we shouldn't worry about 400 ppm (and counting) because it has happened before?  

    I must admit that when I started to type this comment, I was confident that the answer to this question was that TSI was much lower a few million years ago, and I was going to suggest that you add that point as another argument against Schmitt and Happer.  But after searching for a bit, it might be that I was just misremembering having read that there is a clear long-term solar warming trend on the time scale of millions of years, when it is actually billions.  Can you or someone here clear me up on this point?    

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  4. Assuming that 3,000,000,000 years ago TSI was 20% lower than today and that the Sun had been brightening linearly: 3.2 million years is approximately 1/1000th of that time period so one would expect the drop in lumionosity to be 1/1000th of that 20%, which is essentially negligible (vastly less than the difference in the 11 year solar cycle, which IIRC is about 0.1%).

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  5. Dikran's response to jdixon1980 is correct. High CO2 levels hundreds of millions of years ago partially compensate for the fainter young Sun, but that's slow enough to ignore over "only" millions of years.

    Sadly, I didn't notice your other question until just now. I completely agree with KR's comments on that thread, and amusingly also just linked the same page showing that CO2 is rising faster than exponentially.

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  6. Scott, I hear you when it comes to the early space program.  Man those astronauts were the coolest, heck they were demi-gods to us kids.  In fact, it took a while for me to accept that Schmitt's fallen off his rocker... but accept it I have.

    But, the main reason I've dropped in - is to say thanks to Dumb Scientist for writing this article and to SkepticalScience for their sharing/reposting policy - which I have again taken advantage of:

    As for the Wall Street Journal, might I offer some further reading:

    FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 2010  |  citizenschallenge.blogspot
    {#11a} SPPI, Monckton, Seitz, WSJ - anatomy of a character assassination
    Seitz’s Wall Street Journal, June 12, 1996, Op-Ed

    Ben Santer’s censored reply ~ Wall Street Journal letter to Ed, June 25, 1996

    IPCC’s censored reply ~ Wall Street Journal letter to Ed, June 25, 1996

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

    Saturday, January 28, 2012

    WSJ claims there’s “No Need to Panic About Global Warming” (part two)

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