Opinion: Climate science becomes climate dogma
All four major analyses of average global temperatures agree that Earth’s surface has warmed more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950. Most climate scientists are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that this warming is caused by observed simultaneous increases in the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor.
They note that 160 years ago, John Tyndall, a prominent Irish physicist, observed in the laboratory that molecules of these gases absorb some infrared radiation emitted by Earth. Tyndall, and most scientists since, have assumed that if molecules of air absorb thermal energy, the atmosphere must become hotter.
This assumption of warming seems reasonable, but it has never been demonstrated in the laboratory and can now be shown to be mistaken. We now know that infrared radiant energy is absorbed into the chemical bonds holding these gas molecules together. The temperature of air, on the other hand, is well known to be proportional to the square of the average velocity of motion of all the molecules making up the gas — something very different from bond energy.
In the 1980s, as computer modelling of climate was becoming rather sophisticated, climate scientists began to realize that greenhouse-warming theory predicts dangerous levels of global warming will occur by the year 2050 if greenhouse emissions are not reduced significantly, right away.
Scientists and political leaders began to realize that it would probably take demonstration of a broad consensus of most climate scientists worldwide to convince political leaders to take the expensive actions required to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases sufficiently.
After all, greenhouse gases are emitted when burning fossil fuels to produce the energy required to maintain our current standards of living and for our economies to grow.
In 1988, the Intergovernmental Committee on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed under the United Nations, not to determine the cause of global warming, but to demonstrate that greenhouse-warming theory was the cause. This political decision to orchestrate consensus, while well-meant, has turned out to be a serious mistake because science is never settled.
The IPCC has escalated greenhouse-warming theory to climate dogma — a prescribed doctrine thought to be beyond question. Climate scientists, hiding behind their manufactured consensus, refuse to even consider the possibility that greenhouse-warming theory could have the slightest error.
Papers questioning greenhouse-warming theory are rejected without review. Those raising serious questions are attacked.
But science is not done by consensus. Science is not done by popular vote.
As Michael Crichton put it, “the most famous scientists in history are famous precisely because they broke with the consensus.”
The scientific method is simply the most logical and disciplined way to observe and to try to understand what is actually, physically happening in the world around us so that we can improve our quality of life. Scientists observe effects, things that happen, and then try to determine the cause.
It is time for climate scientists and climate skeptics to return together to the scientific method and to discuss rationally why the world has warmed recently, whether significant increases in warming are highly likely, and what we can do to minimize the effects of this warming for life on planet Earth.
The news is good. There is a much more convincing explanation for warming observed throughout Earth history — ozone depletion. When the ozone layer in the lower stratosphere is depleted, more ultraviolet-B solar radiation than usual is observed to reach Earth. Ultraviolet-B is the hottest solar radiation to penetrate the atmosphere, causing sunburn, skin cancer, and cataracts. Humans manufacturing CFC gases caused depletion of the ozone layer and the warming from 1975 to 1998. Very large fields of basaltic lava caused the warming from 2014 to 2016 and have caused warming throughout Earth history. Some of these fields were large enough to cover nearly all of the United States.
Without greenhouse-warming theory, major warming is not expected in the foreseeable future. We can burn fossil fuels safely, provided we minimize pollution.
Peter L. Ward worked 27 years with the United States Geological Survey as research geophysicist, branch chief, and program manager.