The Royal Society: Planetary Warming Uncertain

UK’s leading scientific body steps back and admits that it is “not known” how much warmer the planet will become.

Patrick Henningsen

The Royal Society has released a new guide which outlines a retreat from its former vanguard stance on the threat of climate change and man-made global warming. The decision to update their scientific guide came after 43 of its members complained that the previous versions failed to take into account the opinion of climate change sceptics.

The new guide, entitled ‘Climate change: a summary of the science’, concedes that there are now major ‘uncertainties’ regarding the once sacred ‘scientific consensus’ behind man-made global warming theory, admitting that not only is it impossible to know for sure how the Earth’s climate will change in the future but it cannot possibly know what the effects may be. The 19-page guide states clearly, ’It is not possible to determine exactly how much the Earth will warm or exactly how the climate will change in the future, but careful estimates of potential changes and associated uncertainties have been made”.

The guide continues stating, “There is currently insufficient understanding of the enhanced melting and retreat of the ice sheets on Greenland and West Antarctica to predict exactly how much the rate of sea level rise will increase above that observed in the past century for a given temperature increase”.

In a Sept 20, 2010 article published on the UK Daily Mail, Professor Anthony Kelly, academic advisor to  Britain’s Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) explains, ”The previous guidance was discouraging debate rather than encouraging it among knowledgeable people. The new guidance is clearer and a very much better document”.

The decision to revise and tone down its alarmist position on climate change demonstrates a clear u-turn on its previous 2007 climate pamphlet, one which is said to have caused an internal rebellion by the 43 fellows of the Society, triggering a review and subsequent revision. The 2007 publication, which parroted the IPCC’s popular, but misleading impression that the ‘science is settled’ – made way for the new guide which accepts that important questions remain open and uncertainties unresolved. “The Royal Society now also agrees(with us) that the warming trend of the 1980s and 90s has come to a halt in the last 10 years,” said Dr Benny Peiser, the Director of GWPF.

Economic realities and a marked shift in public opinion since last year’s Climategate scandal and failure of the much-hyped UN Copenhagen Summit have triggered a series of falling dominos within the climate change and anthropogenic global warming (AGW) orthodoxy. The Royal Society’s shift also follows last week’s blow to the radical climatist agenda within Britain, where the new Coalition Government announced it will be slashing its Climate Change Department’s budget and folding the former free-standing bureaucracy into the Treasury department.

Some analysts also believe that the Society’s new guide does not go far enough. Dr David Whitehouse, the science editor of the GWPF said: “The biggest failing of the new guide is that it dismisses temperature data prior to 1850 as limited and leaves it at that. It would cast a whole new light on today’s warming if the Medieval Warm Period, the Roman Warm Period and the Bronze Age Warm Period were as warm as today, possibility even warmer than today. A thorough discussion of the growing empirical evidence for the global existence of the Medieval Warm Period and its implications would have been a valuable addition to the new report.”

In addition, this retreat by the Royal Society signals a very real trend in climate science circles where political activism is slowly being replaced by a more sober assessment of the scientific evidence and ongoing climate debates.

The Political Fallout

To date, the political activist engine powering climate change has been anchored by an elite circle of scientists, foundations, green journalists, carbon financiers- and politicians looking for a good cause. The fuel for this engine has been supplied by short-term economic opportunities, most of which has been in the form of massive research grants, subsidies and feed-in tariffs(triggering a rise in energy costs to the consumer) by the State and confederate bodies like the UN and the European Union. In the US, problems with climate change inspired instruments like Cap and Trade are more chronic, where North America’s sole carbon trading market, the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), has recently been scaled down following a decline in investment and the near complete collapse in carbon emission prices.

As formerly obedient IPCC scientists and insiders gradually break ranks and defect over to the common sense camp, and foundations like the Royal Society reverse their policies on the nature of the climate threat, politicians may lose the once reliable traction they enjoyed when promoting their various green agendas.

This is followed, of course, by the economic reality of any democracy whereby taxpayers cannot really back departments, much less policies, that do not deliver a measured benefit to the public welfare. If the IPCC’s elite chamber of scientists cannot be trusted to objectively measure past global temperatures (actual UN data sets show that there has been no temperature increase since circa 1998), then it goes without saying that politicians cannot build real-world policy catering for a crisis that is not actually happening. The rising tide of scepticism and the reemergence of real scientific analysis will surely spell an end to the innumerable faith-based policies and guesswork forecasting that has plagued the climate change movement to date.

As science gradually makes its way back into line with reality and real world observation, it follows that many of the climate bureaucracies erected since 2000 will stumble as a result. The reason for this phenomenon is spelled out in the basic laws of ‘political physics’; a collapse of the so-called “scientific consensus” comes into direct conflict with one of the main tenets of politics- plausible deniability. When politicians can no longer use scientists as scapegoats, as in “it’s not our fault, they told us CO2 was heating up the planet…”, then the political agenda is all but dead.

The reality curve is certainly catching up to climate change now.

Icecap Loss Estimate Cut by Half

Scientists found that icecap size varies according to corrections for deformations of the Earth’s crust.

AFP

Estimates of the rate of ice loss from Greenland and West Antarctica, one of the most worrying questions in the global warming debate, should be halved, according to Dutch and US scientists.

In the last two years, several teams have estimated Greenland is shedding roughly 230 gigatons of ice, or 230 billion tonnes, per year and West Antarctica around 132 gigatons annually.

Together, that would account for more than half of the annual three-millimetre (0.2 inch) yearly rise in sea levels, a pace that compares dramatically with 1.8mm (0.07 inches) annually in the early 1960s.

But, according to the new study, published in the September issue of the journal Nature Geoscience, the ice estimates fail to correct for a phenomenon known as glacial isostatic adjustment.

This is the term for the rebounding of Earth’s crust following the last Ice Age.

Glaciers that were kilometers (miles) thick smothered Antarctica and most of the northern hemisphere for tens of thousands of years, compressing the elastic crust beneath it with their titanic weight.

When the glaciers started to retreat around 20,000 years ago, the crust started to rebound, and is still doing so.

This movement, though, is not just a single vertical motion, lead researcher Bert Vermeersen of Delft Technical University, in the Netherlands, said in phone interview with AFP.

“A good analogy is that it’s like a mattress after someone has been sleeping on it all night,” he said.

The weight of the sleeper creates a hollow as the material compress downwards and outwards. When the person gets up, the mattress starts to recover. This movement, seen in close-up, is both upwards and downwards and also sideways, too, as the decompressed material expands outwards and pulls on adjacent stuffing.

Often ignored or considered a minor factor in previous research, post-glacial rebound turns out to be important, says the paper.

It looks at tiny changes in Earth’s gravitational field provided by two satellites since 2002, from GPS measurements on land, and from figures for sea floor pressure.

These revealed, among other things, that southern Greenland is in fact subsiding, as the crust beneath it is pulled by the post-glacial rebound from northern America.

With glacial isostatic adjustment modelled in, the loss from Greenland is put at 104 gigatons, plus or minus 23 gigatons, and 64 gigatons from West Antarctica, plus or minus 32 gigatons.

These variations show a large degree of uncertainty, but Vermeersen believes that even so a clearer picture is emerging on ice sheet loss.

“The corrections for deformations of the Earth’s crust have a considerable effect on the amount of ice that is estimated to be melting each year,” said Vermeersen, whose team worked with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Netherlands Institute for Space Research.

“We have concluded that the Greenland and West Antarctica ice caps are melting at approximately half the speed originally predicted.”

If the figures for overall sea level rise are accurate, ice sheet loss would be contribute about 30 percent, rather than roughly half, to the total, said Vermeersen. The rest would come mainly from thermal expansion, meaning that as the sea warms it rises.

The debate is important because of fears that Earth’s biggest reservoirs of ice, capable of driving up ocean levels by many metres (feet) if lost, are melting much faster than global-warming scenarios had predicted.

In 2007, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted oceans would rise by 18-59 centimeters (7.2 and 23.6 inches) by 2100, a figure that at its upper range means vulnerable coastal cities would become swamped within a few generations.

The increase would depend on warming estimated at between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees Celsius (1.98-11.52 degrees Fahrenheit) this century, the IPCC said. It stressed, though, the uncertainties about ice sheet loss.