Lost voices in the climate science debate

As the the mainstream media close ranks to defend their narrative about global warming, many expert voices are closed out — masked from public view.  One of these is Syun-Ichi Akasofu.  Who is he?

Founding Director of the International Arctic Research Center of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) and its Director since its establishment in 1998 until January 2007. Previously he was director of the Geophysical Institute from 1986 -1999.  He has been Professor of Geophysics since 1964. Dr. Akasofu has published more than 550 professional journal articles, authored and co-authored 10 books and has been the invited author of many encyclopedia articles.  The Wikipedia entry about him lists some of his many publications and academic honors.

This post lists some of his essays about climate science written for a general audience. Excerpts appear below.

  1. Is the Earth still recovering from the “Little Ice Age”? A possible cause of global warming
  2. On the Fundamental Defect in the IPCC’s Approach to Global Warming Research, 15 June 2007
  3. Why has “global warming” become such a passionate subject? — Let’s not lose our cool

Here is an example of his recent work, describing climate drivers other than greenhouse gases.  No excerpt provided.

Two Natural Components of the Recent Climate Change“, Syun-Ichi Akasofu (International Arctic Research Center, U Alaska Fairbanks), 23 March 2009 — This discusses:

  1. The Recovery from the Little Ice Age, a Possible Cause of Global Warming
  2. The Multi-decadal Oscillation, the Recent Halting of the Warming


(1)  Is the Earth still recovering from the “Little Ice Age”? A possible cause of global warming” — Abstract

There seems to be a roughly linear increase of the temperature from about 1800, or even much earlier, to the present. This warming trend is likely to be a natural change; a rapid increase of CO2 began in about 1940. This trend should be subtracted from the temperature data during the last 100 years. Thus, there is a possibility that only a fraction of the present warming trend may be attributed to the greenhouse effect resulting from human activities. This conclusion is contrary to the IPCC (2007) Report, which states that “most” of the present warming is due to the greenhouse effect. One possible cause of the linear increase may be that the Earth is still recovering from the Little Ice Age. It is urgent that natural changes be correctly identified and removed accurately from the presently on-going changes in order to find the contribution of the greenhouse effect.

(2)  On the Fundamental Defect in the IPCC’s Approach to Global Warming Research, 15 June 2007 — Excerpt:

The purpose of this note is to point out that the method of study adopted by the International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) is fundamentally flawed, resulting in a baseless conclusion: Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. Contrary to this statement on page 10 of the IPCC “Summary for Policy Makers” (2007), there is so far no definitive evidence that “most” of the present warming is due to the greenhouse effect. I believe that this baseless conclusion results from the scientific composition of the IPCC study group. The IPCC study of the present global warming has fallen into a scientific gap between the meteorological approach and the climatological approach. A study of climate change, including a study of the present warming, should belong to climatology, as the name of the IPCC indicates.

… As mentioned earlier, it is important to recognize that studying any period of climate change, including the present warming, belongs to climatology, more than meteorology. A serious defect of the present IPCC approach is that it does not pay much attention to the possible presence of natural changes, which are so obvious as one examines climate changes even during the last several hundred years. This is simply because, by training, the participating meteorologists do not know how to deal with forcing functions of unknown natural causes; some of them may believe that all the forcing functions are well understood. Nature is far more complex than they seem to be willing to admit.

Unfortunately, most meteorologists and modelers tend to concentrate only on details of the known forcing functions. Indeed, most of them are concerned only with the greenhouse effect during the last 100 years, since the physics of the greenhouse effect is well established and aerosol effects may be dealt with. As a result, they do not examine previous climate change, even as recently as during the last several hundred years. They are also afraid of dealing with ‘low quality’ data in the past or of taking too much effort to gather them (compared with satellite data). However, these are what climatologists have to face. This is why I mentioned earlier that climatology has an element of archeology. In some sense, ‘low quality’ data are more valuable in studying the present climate change than accurate satellite data of the last 20-30 years.

If the IPCC had paid careful attention to the view of genuine climatologists about climate change during the last several hundred years, they should have recognized that the range of observed natural changes should not be ignored, and thus their conclusion should be very tentative. The term “most” in their conclusion is baseless. Actually, it seems that the IPCC report attempts to make the case that the present warming is extremely unusual. It seems that the IPCC is still influenced by the so-called “hockey stick” figure that was prominently displayed in their 2001 report, even though it was discredited and is not in the 2007 report.

Even a casual study of climate change during the last few hundred years, based on the well-known literature, shows that there is a possibility that the Earth is still recovering from the Little Ice Age. This recovery may explain much warming due to unknown causes that has occurred even during the present interglacial period; the warming rate of this recovery may be as much as 0.5°C/100 years from about 1700 to the present*. This is comparable with the rate of 0.6°-0.7°C/100 years, which the IPCC claims to be due to the greenhouse effect. The cause of the Little Ice Age is not known; in consequence, the cause of the temperature rebound is also not known. Therefore, it cannot be included as a forcing function. Nevertheless, it exists. Many glaciers in the world began to recede starting about 1700, and sea ice in the Arctic Ocean began to recede starting in 1800, so these phenomena began long before 1940 when CO2 began to increase rapidly.

Thus, it seems that the IPCC study of the present global warming has fallen into the gap between the meteorological approach and the climatological approach.

In addition, there was one obvious temperature rise from 1920 to 1940, and even a decrease from 1940 to 1975, at the same time as CO2 began to increase rapidly. It is inconceivable that the IPCC did not carefully examine the rise between 1920 and 1940. The rate and magnitude of the increase was similar to those after 1975; note that there is the superposed linear increase associated with the rebounding from the Little Ice Age and others, two together making the temperature rise highest in recent years. Their conclusion “most” should be very tentative until the causes of the 1920-1940 rise can be identified. There is no conclusive evidence that the rise after 1975 is different from the 1920-1940 rise.

(3)  Why has “global warming” become such a passionate subject? — Let’s not lose our cool

Before critically examining the new IPCC Report, it is of interest to review why global warming has become such a passionate subject. In order to find the reasons for the present rampant reaction to global warming, it is necessary to think back to the Cold War period. At that time in history, both the United States and the Soviet Union had a large arsenal of atomic bombs, which could have eliminated all living creatures on Earth many times over. Therefore, scientists and the general public alike urged both governments to abolish their nuclear armaments, signing statements urging this action. There was broad consensus, both amongst the public and in the scientific community, on this issue.

The fear of nuclear war subsided as the Soviet Union began to collapse. It so happened that just before the collapse of the USSR, some groups of US scientists, using supercomputers, were studying future trends in the earth’s climate. They announced in 1988 that increasing levels of CO2, if unchecked, would cause substantial warming of the earth’s temperature, resulting in various disasters. It is easy to understand why some advocative scientists, who were searching for new, significant themes, took up the grand subject of global warming as their new area of focus. This theme was successfully presented to the United Nations and an organization called the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988. Suddenly, the quiet scientific backwater of “climate research” was in the world spotlight. Perhaps, the initial motivation should not necessarily be faulted.

At the same time, many environmental protection organizations and advocacy groups were anxious; it was proving difficult to attract the attention of the general public. In addition, some government officials were also searching for new, globally significant problems to tackle, avoiding more urgent problems of African poverty and other critical problems. It is not too great a leap to infer that at least some of these groups seized the opportunity to make global warming their main theme in the hopes of attracting public interest.

Meanwhile, the IPCC mobilized a large number of climatologists and meteorologists and published several impressive, voluminous publications, one after the other. In one of them, “Climate Change 2001,” for example, a figure that became known as “the hockey stick,” was used prominently in the “Summary for Policy Makers,” in which the temperature shows a dramatic increase during the most recent 100 years, after a slow decrease in temperature over the first 900 years. The nickname “hockey stick” was coined because the temperature-time curve had this sudden, upward kink near the end, like a hockey stick. (Since then, this particular figure has been discredited; the new IPCC Report (2007) does not include the figure.)

With voluminous publications participated by hundreds of scientists, it is therefore understandable that policy makers would trust the “summary,” providing them the confidence to base major policy-making decisions on the “summary,” as indicated by the “hockey stick” figure.

Indeed, many policy makers, environmental protection groups, the press, and even some scientists took the IPCC reports to mean that all the participating scientists had come to a shared broad consensus that global warming is a very serious issue facing mankind. It is important to recognize that this consensus is of quite a different nature from the one reached on nuclear disarmament. A large number of atomic bombs did, in fact, exist; there was no uncertainty, compared with global warming, which requires much more efforts to understand for the causes.

… To exacerbate this situation, the media, by and large, tend to report worst-case scenarios and disasters, for example using only the 2040 story. It is understandable that disaster stories draw more readers than stories about the benefits of global warming. Unfortunately, most reporters have little or no background in understanding debates on the simulation results. For these reasons, the initial effort of IPCC has gotten out of control.

It is also a serious problem that global warming can so easily be blamed for everything bad that happens, such as floods (which often result instead from massive deforestation or from loss of wetlands) or extinction of some species (which may result from over-harvesting, loss of habitat, invasion of exotics, pollution problems), etc. In the meantime, those who are really responsible for these calamities can easily hide under the umbrella of global warming.

Most reporters, who come to Alaska to try to find the greenhouse disasters, have little knowledge of the Arctic. They take photographs of large blocks of ice falling from glaciers at their termini and report that global warming is in progress before their very eyes. However, glaciers are not static piles of ice, but instead are constantly flowing rivers of ice. It is normal for tidewater glaciers to calve large blocks of ice from the face as they reach the sea, and they will do so regardless of how warm or cold it is. Most glaciers in the world have been receding since 1800 or earlier, well before 1940, when CO2began to increase significantly. Why do major media of the world flock all the way to Alaska, if global warming is a global phenomenon? So far, what they would find is broken houses in Shishmaref, a little island in the Bering Sea coast, because of coastal erosion that is difficult to relate to a direct result of global warming. Some of the current global warming stories, including “The Day after Tomorrow,” are based on science fiction, not science.


Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp relevance to this topic:

Posts on the FM site about The sociology and politics of climate science:

  1. President Kennedy speaks to us about global warming and Climate Science, 7 August 2008
  2. “Aliens cause global warming”: wise words from the late Michael Crichton, 15 November 2008
  3. My “wish list” for the climate sciences in 2009, 2 January 2009
  4. Apostasy against core leftist doctrine at the Huffington Post!, 13 January 2009
  5. Peer review of scientific work – another example of a flawed basis for public policy, 22 January 2009
  6. Obama opens his Administration with a powerful act that will echo for many years, 4 February 2009
  7. Science in action, a confused and often nasty debate among scientists, 5 February 2009
  8. Richard Feynmann, one of the 20th centuries greatest scientists, talks to us about climate science, 12 February 2009
  9. An opportunity to judge for yourself the adequacy of today’s climate science, 2 March 2009
  10. A note on the green religion, one of the growth industries in America, 17 March 2009

9 thoughts on “Lost voices in the climate science debate”

  1. electrophoresis

    I don’t have an opinion about this because I don’t know enough about the science, but NASA recently mentioned that the sun is currently dimmer than it’s been for about a century — “‘Quiet Sun’ baffling astronomers“, BBC, 21 April 2009. What this means, I don’t know. Whether it has any significance for global warming…again, I don’t know.
    Fabius Maximus replies: This important subject has been extensively discussed on the FM site.

    * The NASA article which is the source for the BBC article was subject of this post: “NASA: Sun undergoing a ‘deep solar minimum’”, 17 April 2009.

    * For other articles on the FM site, see the FM reference page Science & Nature – my articles, section 2 — “the solar cycle.”

    * For paper in the in scientific literature, see the FM reference page Science & nature – studies & reports, section 5 — “About the relationship of earth’s climate and extra-terrestrial factors.”

  2. Global warming is real. It’s causes most likely include natural variables. However, to think that man can incinerate millions of years worth of concentrated solar energy and release ton upon ton of pollutants into the atmosphere without any negative consequences is ridiculous on it’s face. For every action there is a reaction. We live in a closed system.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I doubt any participatants in the debate disagree with this grade-school level summary. The debate is about the real world, which is more complex. Magnitudes matter, and relative effect of the various factors — natural and antropogenic — are still subjects of intense research.

    * Cooling: from both natural cycles and anthropogenic causes (e.g., particulates from pollution).

    * Warming: from both natural (e.g., rebound from the Little Ice Age) and anthropogenic causes (e.g., CO2).

    * Feedbacks: positive (such as the CO2 effect on evaporation which drives warming in most models) and negative (warming => clouds, plankton). The plankton study is an esp interesting example of the complexity and subtly of climate dynamics: see the story here, abstract of the paper here.

    * Wild cards: such as solar cycles (see section 5 of the FM eference page about Science & nature – studies & reports).

  3. This one pretty much sums it up for me:

    “In the meantime, environmental protection advocates might consider a return to their original important themes of protecting the environment from destruction, pollution,over-harvesting, massive deforestation, and habitat destruction. All these processes of environmental degradation are taking place right now before our very eyes, and they are not all related to global warming.”

    As far as I can tell, the whole global warming business is about to turn into yet another international corporate boondoggle. I read somewhere (and I sincerely hope it’s just an urban legend) that they have been doing calculations of BTU factors in the production and processing of various foods, including how it is cooked on the stove by the ‘consumer’, i.e. the cost of oatmeal will soon also include a ‘global warming’ BTU surcharge. But that’s exactly the sort of direction, one way or another, that I suspect this is all headed towards.

  4. Thank you for this post. Till now, I have only seen venal self interest by scientists offered as explanation for the mania over global warming. I have met very few venal scientists over a long scientific career, so this always rang hollow to me. The above explanation of misassignment of research dollars to the wrong subspecialty makes infinitely more sense. To a man with a hammer…

  5. Oh contraire my good Maximus. Many ‘debaters’ dismiss man-made global warming out of hand. To deny man’s action has any responsibility would seem to be the ‘grade school’ argument. I can tell you have graduated from middle school.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Please, no cutesy-poo assertions. Please provide examples from people doing analysis in this field (what I meant by “participatants in the debate”) — no stray bloggers or pundits. I follow many of them, including the “skeptics” such as Steve McIntyre at Climate Audit, Jeff Id at The Air Vent, and Anthony Watts (Watts Up with That and SurfaceStation.org). None of them have said such a thing, that I have seen. There are wackos on the web who can be used to discredit any belief, living amongst the “flat earthers” and “there was no holocaust” fringe.

    “To deny man’s action has any responsibility would seem to be the ‘grade school’ argument.”

    Who has said such a crazy thing? While I don’t know what your point is here, the pattern of comments in the pro-AGW comments on this site has been to make up stuff like that — then provide rebuttals. After several dozen such dances, I no longer have any patience for it. For examples see:

    * A reply to comments on FM site about Global Warming, 17 November 2008
    * Is anthropogenic global warming a scientific debate, or a matter of religious belief?, 22 November 2008
    * Another pro-global warming comment, effective PR at work!, 1 December 2008
    * Mystery solved, providing an important insight about the global warming debate., 2 December 2008
    * The definitive rebuttal to skepticism about global warming!, 10 December 2008
    * High school science facts prove global warming! Skeptical scientists humiliated by this revelation!, 31 December 2008
    * A puzzle – can you find a solution?, 16 January 2009

  6. Dr Jonathan Czarnecki

    Global warming is occurring; the scientist from UofA (Fairbanks) makes that point; the question is whether the cause is anthropogenic or not.

    What should be of most concern to all parties in this matter are the long term trends (reference Vostok ice core samples of historic CO2 concentrations going back almost 500,000 years.) When examining the relevant data from these samples, one easily discerns the “Global Calm” period of the last 8-9,000 years. Before that, the data become extreme. The data from the current (less than 1,500 years) is provocative because it indicates a probability (measurable but not necessarily high) of return to pre-Global Calm climates.

    This is very important because all human civilization developed during the Global Calm period. Can human civilization continue and develop in a period of extreme climatic variation? Now I think that’s a question in everyone’s interest to answer. It’s an issue of risk – but this time the scope is human civilization, not just nation-states or sub-national groups.

    1. Dr Czarnecki,

      Thank you for commenting. Note that this post is from April 2009. Look on the home page for recent posts reflecting the current state of climate science issues.

      (1) Global Warming

      Does anyone now doubt that the world has warmed for the past two centuries? It seems odd that people mention this so often as useful information. Esp when commenting about this post, a scientist discussing the causes of global warming.

      And, of course, that’s the essence of calling climate skeptics “deniers” — although most (all?) explicitly agree with the history of warming.

      (2) “the question is whether the cause is anthropogenic or not.”

      I don’t believe that accurately represents the state of climate science. The question is, I believe, how much of the warming results from anthropogenic causes — which factor varies over time.

      There are multiple anthropogenic effects (eg, CO2, land use changes, aerosols), with a net warming effect sometime in the early 20th century. Anthropogenic effects appear to become the major cause of warming sometime in the decade (perhaps 2) after WWII. The scientist here describes the rapid anthropogenic CO2 emissions since 1940 warming si

      AR5 says:

      “It is extremely likely [“>95% probability”] that human activities have caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature since the 1950s.”

      (3) As for the provocative long-term dynamics you describe, these are active subjects of research. But, so far as I can tell (as a layman), there are not yet definitive conclusions. Especially from a public policy perspective, requiring higher standards of proof than purely academic research.

      To mention just one question, the available data seems unclear on the timing of the CO2 – temperature relationship. That’s at (perhaps beyond) the resolution of existing tools (eg, analysis of gas trapped in deeply buried ice caps). There are indications that CO2 sometimes varies after the temperature change.

      These are complex issues, which is why I prefer to rely on reports from bodies like the IPCC for evaluations of the current envelope of climate science knowledge. Laypeople (like Romm) in the public debate tend to point to individual papers supporting their policy preferences — falsely describing them as definitive — rather than relying on the development of broad reliable conclusions, based on multiple threads of research from different teams.

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