A Free-Market Energy Blog

Countering Sen. Kerry’s Catastrophic Climate Claims (Part 1 of 2)

By Kenneth P. Green -- December 23, 2009

Editor note: On November 10, 2009 Mr. Green testifedbefore the Senate Committee on Finance about global warming. During the course of his testimony, an obviously agitated Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) challenged Ken on different aspects of the climate debate. His responses are printed here. [Part II of this series is tomorrow.]

1. Not One Peer-Reviewed Paper Contradicts the “Consensus” View of the Climate Crisis
Sen. Kerry asserted that not one peer-reviewed paper contradicts the “consensus” view that greenhouse gas emissions will cause devastating consequences, and that we must limit their emissions radically to avoid the maximum “consensus” value of two degrees Celsius, which Kerry claimed was the point at which catastrophic damage would occur to the Earth’s climate. I offered to provide several.

Perhaps the central issue in climate science involves estimates of the sensitivity of the climate to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Sensitivity refers to just how much warming results from an increased concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The following papers demonstrate that the climate’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases is considerably lower than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims—so much lower, in fact, that the warming we would expect from doubling the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would be quite modest (well below two degrees Celsius) and offer very little risk. Do these papers truly reflect the reality of how the climate works? Perhaps they do, perhaps they do not, but it cannot be argued that they do not exist.

In a recently published article, Richard S. Lindzen and Yong-Sang Choi use data from NASA’s Earth Radiation Budget Experiment to assess the climate’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases. In this article, they demonstrate empirically that the climate sensitivity to a doubling of greenhouse gases is only about 0.5 degrees Celsius, one-sixth of the IPCC estimate of 3 degrees Celsius.

Another study by Roy W. Spencer and William D. Braswell also examines the data from NASA’s CERES satellites. It concludes that “eight years of the latest NASA satellite measurements of variations in both the Earth’s radiative budget, and in lower atmospheric temperature, suggest two important conclusions related to the global warming issue. The first is that the sensitivity of the climate system is much lower than the IPCC climate models suggest; that is, the climate system is dominated by negative feedbacks.” Spencer and Braswell also conclude that “taken together, these results suggest that the IPCC’s claim that global warming is mostly man-made is, at best, premature.”

A study by Nicola Scafetta and Richard C. Wilson examines data regarding changes in total solar irradiance (TSI), concluding: “This finding has evident repercussions for climate change and solar physics. Increasing TSI between 1980 and 2000 could have contributed significantly to global warming during the last three decades. . . . Current climate models . . . have assumed that the TSI did not vary significantly during the last 30 years and have therefore underestimated the solar contribution and overestimated the anthropogenic contribution to global warming.” If the warming of the last three decades has been driven by increases in solar output, it cannot also have been driven by human greenhouse gas emissions. This suggests that anthropogenic greenhouse gases have a low sensitivity value.

After studying satellite and radiosonde (weather balloon) data, John D. McLean, Chris R. deFreitas, and Robert M. Carter concluded that ocean patterns dominate climate change in the tropics. They write, “Overall the results suggest that the Southern Oscillation exercises a consistently dominant influence on mean global temperature, with a maximum effect in the tropics, except for periods when equatorial volcanism causes ad hoc cooling. That mean global tropospheric temperature has for the last 50 years fallen and risen in close accord with the SOI [Southern Oscillation Index] of 5–7 months earlier shows the potential of natural forcing mechanisms to account for most of the temperature variation.”

In another study, Petr Chylek and Ulrike Lohmann “use the temperature, carbon dioxide, methane, and dust concentration record from the Vostok ice core to deduce the aerosol radiative forcing during the Last Glacial Maximum to Holocene transition and the climate sensitivity.  Their research “suggests a 95% likelihood of warming between 1.3 and 2.3 K due to doubling of atmospheric concentration of CO2.” (A degree Kelvin [K] is equal to a degree Celsius [C].) These values are considerably lower than the sensitivity values estimated by the IPCC.

In another study the authors use satellite and surface temperature observations to study the effect of aerosols on climate and to examine climate sensitivity. They find “that the climate sensitivity is reduced by at least a factor of 2 when direct and indirect effects of decreasing aerosols are included, compared to the case where the radiative forcing is ascribed only to increases in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.”

Sherwood B. Idso reviews various “natural experiments” that can reveal how sensitive the climate is to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases, and concludes: “Over the course of the past 2 decades, I have analyzed a number of natural phenomena that reveal how Earth’s near-surface air temperature responds to surface radiative perturbations. These studies all suggest that a 300 to 600 ppm [parts per million] doubling of the atmosphere’s CO2 concentration could raise the planet’s mean surface air temperature by only about 0.4°C. Even this modicum of warming may never be realized, however, for it could be negated by a number of planetary cooling forces that are intensified by warmer temperatures and by the strengthening of biological processes that are enhanced by the same rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration that drives the warming. Several of these cooling forces have individually been estimated to be of equivalent magnitude, but of opposite sign, to the typically predicted greenhouse effect of a doubling of the air’s CO2 content, which suggests to me that little net temperature change will ultimately result from the ongoing buildup of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere.”

Many other studies challenging various elements of the “consensus” that anthropogenic greenhouse gases are causing, or will cause, catastrophic climate change can be found at the website www.populartechnology.net, which boasts 450 peer-reviewed publications challenging different elements of the “climate crisis” paradigm which both Kerry and former vice president Al Gore whole-heartedly endorse.


2. Ice-Free Arctic by 2013

When I mentioned that the claims that we would see an ice-free-Arctic by 2013 had been withdrawn, Senator Kerry asked for documentation. I provided it. The outgoing head of Greenpeace, Gerd Leipold, retracted his claim that the Arctic would be ice-free by 2030 in an interview with the BBC. In the video, Leipold says, “I don’t think it will be melting by 2030. . . . That may have been a mistake.” However, there is also considerable controversy over the claim of an ice-free Arctic by 2013, as can be seen in the following articles:

In an article by Jonathan Amos, other Arctic ice researchers refute the assertion that an ice-free arctic is likely by 2013. The article quotes Mark Serreze, a research scientist with the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, saying, “A few years ago, even I was thinking 2050, 2070, out beyond the year 2100, because that’s what our models were telling us. But as we’ve seen, the models aren’t fast enough right now; we are losing ice at a much more rapid rate. My thinking on this is that 2030 is not an unreasonable date to be thinking of.” Serreze also told the BBC that Wieslaw Maslowski, the climate scientist who announced that arctic summers could be ice free by 2013, “is probably a little aggressive in his projections, simply because the luck of the draw means natural variability can kick in to give you a few years in which the ice loss is a little less than you’ve had in previous years.”

An article by David Adam quotes Vicky Pope, the head of climate change advice at the British Met Office Hadley Centre, as saying that “there is little evidence to support claims that Arctic ice has reached a tipping point and could disappear within a decade or so, as some reports have suggested.” The article states that “summer ice extent in the Arctic, formed by frozen sea water, has collapsed in recent years,” and notes that the amount of ice in September of last year was 34 percent lower than the average amount of ice present since satellite measurements began in 1979. Pope says, “The record-breaking losses in the past couple of years could easily be due to natural fluctuations in the weather, with summer ice increasing again over the next few years.” She goes on to say, “It is easy for scientists to grab attention by linking climate change to the latest extreme weather event or apocalyptic prediction. But in doing so, the public perception of climate change can be distorted. The reality is that extreme events arise when natural variations in the weather and climate combine with long-term climate change.”

According to the British Met Office, the 2007 Arctic ice-melt was an anomaly unrelated to climate change. The article says, “Modeling of Arctic sea ice by the Met Office Hadley Centre climate model shows that ice invariably recovers from extreme events, and that the long-term trend of reduction is robust—with the first ice-free summer expected to occur between 2060 and 2080. It is unlikely that the Arctic will experience ice-free summers by 2020.”

Note: A PDF of this article in its original format can be found here.


  1. stan  

    Poor Sen. Kerry. Who’s he gonna believe? Algore (flunked out and dropped out of his two graduate school endeavors) whose opinions might be influenced by the over $100 million he’s wagered on AGW or a scientist who has actually been paying attention.


  2. JD Will  

    I think you have hit the $64 trillion question on the nose. Before we march off to dismantle/rebuild our energy based way of life we need to address the uncertainty in the IPCC calculation (not to mention uncertainty about some their members ethics). Many of the particular subjects like the oceans as calorimeter, solar GCR modulation, and the iris effect are in the links you provide. I am rooting for a planet that has many tricks up its sleeve for handling climate balance as the long term record would suggest.

    The answer is certainly more complex that the media blitz has let on. But, to ignore CO2 would be perilous. If you are interested in the science, this presentation is from an AGW proponent, but is highly informative and entertaining. The speaker, Dr Richard B Alley gives a very good paleoclimate history and also addresses CO2 lag to temperature with a good analogy to loan interest.


    As to the risk, I am agreeing mostly with Levitt and Dubner (SuperFreakanomics) who I listened to on C-Span discussing the mitigation, avoidance and adaptation risk strategies. The key point was that dramatic mitigation effort now will have a relatively small percentage impact in a century and it is better to wait until the problem is better determined before reacting.


    (Has a searchable transcript)


  3. tom klein  

    Dr Alley is the poster boy of the “hand waving argument”. Both his method of presentation and the quality of his arguments can be characterized as “hand waving” especially when it comes to more recent data like comparing CO2 to interest on credit. How about using the Occam Razor principle and attributing the lag of CO2 to temperature to the solubility of CO2 in the oceans. I find that explanation a lot more satisfactory on both scientific and economic grounds


  4. drjohn  

    Oustanding post–great work.

    Kerry believes what he does because that “belief” is the lynchpin for the government taking control of pretty much our entire lives. If the warming fright flames out, so does that effort.

    This was never about the environment. It was always about a means of control.

    And taxes, of course.


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