Letters to the Editor: Heiland Lecture from Issue 18

Dear readers,

In Issue 17 of the Oredigger, our front-page news article “Climate change debate heats up” was the subject of much back-lash around the Mines campus. The article covered the Heiland lecture given by Terry Donze, in which Donze stated that climate change was not due to human activity but was a result of solar fluctuations.

At the Oredigger it is our policy to report what happens on the Mines campus in an unbiased light. We strive for fair media coverage of the issues and events on campus, and in doing so, every story of journalistic merit must be given equal treatment within the paper. This article was an example of those principles. Our writer covered an event on campus, presenting the ideas put forward by the lecturer and attributed those ideas to the source.

Again, true to the Oredigger’s journalistic principals, we are presenting rebuttals from Dr. Christian Shorey and graduate student Brian Zaharatos.

-Katie Huckfeldt

I am very proud to be a member of the Colorado School of Mines academic community, mainly because of the reputation for high standards of excellence that we hold. It is important to me that such standards be upheld, and that political ideologies do not cloud our perception of the natural world. For that reason, I am writing to express my distress over reading the Oredigger article, “Climate change debate heats up.” The perspective I witnessed Terry Donze present at the Heiland Lecture on February 16th was neither new nor a valid scientific perspective, and as such provided a lot of heat, but very little light. His talk was a series of long discredited notions, mainly from the Heartland Institute, whose recently released documents exposed them as an ideologically, not scientifically, driven institution.

To borrow a term from the evolution/creationism debate, what Donze presented to the students of this university was a “Gish Gallop.” Named after the skilled creationist debater Duane Gish, the Gish Gallop works by putting out so many disparate pieces of misinformation during a lecture or debate, that an opponent simply doesn’t have the time to correct them all, leaving the audience with an impression that the opposing side’s view has many holes. But the holes are fictional, and it doesn’t take much effort to find the true science behind climate change.

Take the last sentence of the article, a quote from Mr. Donze, as an example; “The cosmic ray cloud link has recently been verified by CERN . . . “. Compare that to a quote from the leader of the CERN study, Jack Kirby; “. . . at the moment (the research) actually says nothing about the effect of cosmic rays on clouds and thus climate, but it is an important first step.” So Mr. Donze has misrepresented the research to force it to say what he wants. It would have been an elementary matter to look up this study (Kirby, 2011) to see that it only makes nucleii at the nanometer scale, too small for cloud formation, and it only models the upper atmosphere where clouds don’t form. Mr. Donze has told an untruth when he says this experiment verifies the “cosmic ray cloud link”.

This Oredigger article employs an odd definition of “evidence.” Yes climate has changed in the past and yes there are mechanisms by which carbon dioxide can increase in response to a global temperature increase. We also know that carbon dioxide absorbs certain wavelengths of outgoing infrared radiation, and have measured with satellites a reduction in outgoing radiation in exactly those bands (Harries et al, 2001). That energy is being retained in the earth system and climate change is a well-reasoned expected outcome of this basic physics. The fact that rising temperatures can release even more heat-trapping gasses into the atmosphere in no way provides an argument against the human factor in modern climate change.

It is a further prediction of greenhouse gas forcing that the troposphere, the lowest layer of our atmosphere, should experience warming, while the upper three layers (stratosphere, mesosphere and thermosphere), should experience cooling. Sounding measurements of our atmosphere over the past few decades have observed a consistent warming of the troposphere and cooling of the top three layers. If the sun were the primary driver of the climate change we currently observe, then all four layers would experience warming. Mr. Donze is either ignorant of this fact, or chose to ignore it, and given the behavior described below, it is not clear which is the case.

When presented with science contradicting his statements, Mr. Donze dealt with such by either citing already discredited literature, or simply dismissing it with a wave of his hand or a shrug of his shoulders. When I asked him to justify the statement that Michael Mann’s “Hockey Stick” graph had been invalidated, he cited McIntyre and Mckitrick 2003, even though the National Research Council in 2006 showed the McIntyre paper to be invalid. Dr. Mann’s work has been upheld by several scientific and academic organizations since then, and yet he (Mann) continues to be a punching bag of the deniers of climate science. The slanderous talk of Mr. Donze testifies to that fact.

After the talk, I informed Mr. Donze that an article had been published (Feulner and Rahmstorf, 2010) modeling the effect of a Maunder Minimum style sun cycle with combined greenhouse forcing over the coming century, and that it shows dominance of greenhouse forcing over a possible solar reduction. Mr. Donze’s response was to simply shrug his shoulders and continue packing up. When I subsequently informed Mr. Donze that his sun and temperature graphs either ended at 1980, or only allowed completeness when the time span of the graph was long enough to hide the last 30 years of data, he actually seemed surprised and tried to deny it. Yet another of the predictions of greenhouse gas forcing from Suki Manabe and Drew Shindel’s work in the 1970’s was that greenhouse gas forcing would begin to pull out from the natural background forcers in the 1980’s. Since that time, no climate model has been able to reconstruct the temperatures over the past three decades without putting in greenhouse gas forcing. The reason Mr. Donze only showed us detailed graphs correlating solar intensity with global temperature up to the 1980’s is that the correlation breaks down after that time as predicted by greenhouse gas forcing dominance. This is not the attitude of a person searching for the truth of a scientific matter, but rather of an ideologue who attempts to wish away any science that contradicts his perspective.

As for the idea that the sun puts in 99.9% of the energy to the earth’s system and therefore it has to be the dominant forcer; that is a misunderstanding of thermal equilibrium. If I had a conical pot tapering down to a flat circular base and filled it with water then put it on the stove I would have an analogous situation to the sun forcing of our climate. The heat from the stove is putting in 99.9% of the energy to our pot, but if I were to have a pot that could vary the diameter, and thus the area, of its circular base in contact with stove, I would find the equilibrium temperature would vary in proportion to the base’s diameter. If I hold the base diameter constant and vary the heat output of the stove, I will see a change in equilibrium temperature with the stove as the primary driver. If I hold the stove constant and vary the diameter of the base of the pot, I will see a change in equilibrium temperature with the diameter being the primary driver, even though the stove is still the dominant energy source. To complete the analogy, the sun has actually reduced its overall output over the last 50 years, but the temperature of our planet has increased over that time. The logical outcome of that fact is that sun simply can’t be the primary driver, or even significant driver, of the current climate change we are experiencing.

During the question and answer session of the talk, I informed Mr. Donze that climate is the statistical state of the atmosphere, and that we need at least 17 years of record to see climate trends (thus making all his slides with less than 17 years of record invalid to discussion of climate). He chose to dismiss me by saying that I can be invited to give a counter talk if I wish. I would be happy to give a talk correcting the many errors made by Mr. Donze, but that would require an invitation by the Geophysics department at a future Heiland Lecture. If that invitation is proffered, I will gladly accept.

Dr. Christian Shorey

Last week, the Oredigger published an article titled, “A New Perspective on Global Warning” (actually, that was the title of the online version; the print version was titled, “The Climate Change Debate Heats Up”). This article gave an account of a recent talk by hosted by CSM’s Geophysics department on ‘climate realism’ (full disclosure: I did not attend this talk; my knowledge of what was said at the talk comes entirely from what I take to be a faithful account given in the Oredigger.). The speaker of this talk, Terry Donze, presented his view on climate change: any noticeable changes in climate are not anthropogenic (human caused), or caused by CO2, but rather, are caused by solar cycles. The evidence that Donze presented for his view came in large part from a video titled, “Unstoppable Solar Cycles”. The scholars in this video, astrophysicist Willie Soon and climatologist David R. Legates, give an historical account of how solar activity is thought to have caused marked changes in the Earth’s climate, most notably in Greenland during the ‘little ice age’ of the 14th and 15th century. Given that solar activity is thought to have changed the climate in the past, Donze, along with Soon and Legates, argues that any current changes in climate are due to increased solar activity, not increased CO2 emissions.

Given what this article says, and given some research that I’ve done about the material presented in it, I am quite disappointed with Mines for supporting the content of the lecture. Although I disagree with the conclusions Donze presents, I certainly support anyone who attempts to give good evidence in support of his or her beliefs. What I am disappointed with is Donze, Soon, and Legates’ attempt to mislead the public, and the use of evidence that seems poor to challenge the conclusion of anthropogenic climate change. Based on the Oredigger article and the video mentioned in it, I find the evidence presented at this talk to be poor for (at least) the following reasons:

1. All of the people mentioned above–Donze, Soon, and Legates–have been connected to funding by industries that have a vested interest in denying anthropogenic climate change. For example, Donze worked in the oil industry for a significant portion of his career; similarly, Soon has received over 1 million dollar from oil companies (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jun/28/climate-change-sceptic-willie-soon). I certainly do not think that these facts are reasons to discredit the speakers outright, but these facts should give one reason to believe that these people may be highly susceptible to confirmation bias and are disingenuous with respect to the overwhelming evidence presented in favor of anthropogenic climate change. In short, we should inspect the evidence that they present with extra care.

2. At least one of the speakers in “Unstoppable Solar Cycles”, Rie Oldenbug, was tricked into speaking about historical evidence for non-anthropogenic climate change (http://www.desmogblog.com/heartland-institute-tricked-video-subject-in-unstoppable-solar-cycles). Rie Oldenbug’s research is concerned with the history of Greenland, not climate science. Apparently, she was horrified to hear that her scholarship was used in this video. Use of a video that is known to be deceptive in its content is, in my mind, intellectually vicious, and anyone knowingly making use of such material should be ashamed of their actions.

3. The arguments presented in “Unstoppable Solar Cycles” appear to be pretty weak. For example, the fact that the Earth’s climate has gone through ‘natural’ temperature fluctuations is certainly not an argument against the strong evidence that CO2 emissions is contributing to climate change. It might be the case that the Earth’s climate has, in the past, changed as a function of major solar activity. But that defeats no claim about the greenhouse effect. Also, Dr. Soon, in the video claims that, “the sun…in terms of its light energy output, is probably the only true external driving factor of the earth climate system.” This is almost most certainly true, but it is misleading and likely irrelevant; anthropogenic climate change is an internal driving factor. If Dr. Soon is attempting to make the claim that no internal driving factors affect climate, then, it seems to me that he is obviously wrong; the environmental lapse rate–the decrease in temperature with increase in elevation–seems to be a great counterexample to this claim.

From my short time at Mines, I can tell that academic integrity is taken very seriously here. Given that, and given what I’ve presented above, I think that the Mines community should be dissatisfied with the content of this lecture; we deserve better!

-Brian Zaharatos

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