Physicist Finds What Climate Scientists Already Know
Independent minded, publicity loving physicist confirms global temperature rise – and says humans chief culprits
There has been much ado in the media and the blogosphere in the past few days, regarding the supposed conversion of former “climate sceptic” Richard Muller, a physics professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Muller had established a project on global temperature trends, and not only found a significant recent warming, but also concluded, “Humans are almost entirely the cause.”
Muller is evidently an interesting fellow, whose research has ranged through particle physics, ice ages and recent climate change, and has founded a consultancy group specialising in energy related issues. In 2004, he wrote an article lambasting the so-called “hockey stick” graph of temperatures. Based on a study that had been rejected by a respected journal, he noted: “Suddenly the hockey stick, the poster-child of the global warming community, turns out to be an artifact of poor mathematics.”
The hockey stick originated in 1998, when three climatologists produced a graph of global temperatures dating back to 1400. It showed temperatures were broadly stable until recent decades, when there was a sharp increase – creating a picture rather like the shaft and blade of a hockey stick. It has proven controversial, with critics arguing there is nothing special about recent temperatures, though further studies have supported the overall results.
Three years ago, in a bid to show what the real temperature history looks like, Muller established the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project, with a team including his daughter Elizabeth, but only one climatologist. Among funding sources was a foundation set up by Charles and David Koch, billionaire owners of oil, gas and chemical conglomerate Koch Industries. The Koch brothers have reportedly outspent even Exxon Mobil in supporting efforts to deny climate change is an issue, so presumably hoped Muller’s work would likewise help stave off action that might harm their interests.
Instead, Muller last year announced that, “Our results turned out to be close to those published by prior groups… Global warming is real.” This week, he went a step further in saying the recent warming is almost entirely caused by humans.
Though Muller has achieved publicity, the results are hardly startling. Penn State, US, climate scientist Michael Mann – one of the trio behind the original hockey stick – wrote on his Facebook page that the results, “demonstrate what scientists have known with some degree of confidence for nearly two decades.” Nor have they swayed hardcore sceptics.
Anthony Watts, who runs a popular blog sceptical of global warming, had claimed he was prepared to accept whatever result the Berkeley Earth team produced, but has since backtracked, and this week even announced his own study had shown recent warming over the US is around half that reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
And so it goes on: a public “debate” even as the science of warming becomes stronger, and the evidence it is happening grows daily.
Most climate scientists – around 97 percent according to an oft-cited figure – believe global warming is real. Suppose you were on a plane, with your entire family, and most aircraft engineers who inspected it reported potentially critical problems? Would you calmly sit back, happy to keep flying?
We know what our pilots are doing about the situation: little or nothing. Global warming seems a non-issue in the US presidential campaign. While China pushes sustainable industries, its greenhouse gas emissions are surging. Former Chief Executive Donald Tsang said climate change posed an unprecedented challenge, yet took no action to counter it.
It’s time for people to push for change, to counter the vested interests and rein in our emissions. Better to make changes voluntarily, respond to the science, than have them thrust upon us by the many impacts of warming that even former sceptic Muller has confirmed.
Column I wrote for Sunday Morning Post, Hong Kong; appeared on 5 August 2012.
Berkeley Earth website