Many scientists in the US and Canada don’t share your opinion. How come?
It is unfortunate that when one asks about a discrepancy between climate models and observations at a climate conference, too often one hears the refrain: “But the climate models all predict the same thing”. Frequently, the output of a climate model is even described as data; this is nonsense.
Science is not based on opinion polls. This is something we all knew in Grade 1. If the teacher asked what was 7 times 12, we did not poll our classmates, instead we looked at what the best student would answer. There are a number of intelligent people who realize that the predictive record of the models is poor. In private, a number of researchers will voice doubts but they are afraid to do so in public as their careers could be negatively affected.
You held prominent positions in the American Physical Society and the Canadian Association of Physics. How can a sound scientific climate be developed between climate scientists?
I try to present data whenever I give a talk. It is difficult to argue with a thermometer or a satellite spectrometer, especially when one includes the measurement uncertainty in any result. Audience members have approached me afterwards and said “it’s nice to see data” and “the data doesn’t support the hysteria.”
There has been a warming of about 1 C since 1850 in the Earth’s average surface temperature. Some of this is undoubtedly due to increasing greenhouse gases but much of it is just natural variation. The average global temperature was warmer during the 1920s to 1940s but cooler from 1950 to 1980. Afterwards, the temperature warmed until the hiatus after 2000. The reasons for these decadal variations are not well understood.
Our calculations and those of others show that for the case of a clear sky, doubling greenhouse gases such as CO2, CH4 and N2O and including H2O feedback will warm the Earth by about 1.5 to 2 C. The global climate models predict warming as high as 5.5 C. It should be noted that doubling CO2 will take several centuries.
Stopping the use of fossil fuels will significantly lower our standard of living. Energy conservation is always excellent, but preventing the third world from developing is inhumane. In short, the claim that the world will end in less than a decade unless emission of greenhouse gases is stopped, is not just based on bad science but is poor public policy.
How does science itself curb the climate hysteria you describe in your book?
The book “Is Global Warming Hot Air?” was written with a popular audience in mind. I am sure that some of the climate folks are angry but I don’t care.
You are active in many fields of research, from applied physics like laser-isotope research, ultracold atoms, but also monitoring environmental pollution. Is a multi- disciplinary attitude important? Also in climate research?
Understanding a very broad subject such as the Earth’s climate encompasses a number of different fields from Physics, Chemistry, Geology to Biology. The response of plants to increased CO2 will likely be very important. Plants grow much faster at higher levels of CO2. Greenhouses therefore pipe in extra CO2. NASA studies estimate about 15% of the increased agricultural production during the 20th century was due to increased atmospheric CO2. Moreover, at higher CO2 levels, the openings in the plant leaves called the stomata are smaller resulting in less water loss. This is believed to be the reason why areas surrounding deserts appear to be greening. Hence, predicting the future climate will necessitate understanding unforeseen subtle effects.
How do your children react on the doom and gloom stories held by Greta Thunberg?
My children are quite sensible. My youngest daughter studies engineering and was given the following assignment: write a ½ page opinion editorial piece (op-ed) on the Global Climate Strike being led by Greta Thunberg. She tried to answer diplomatically, because her teacher is politically correct:
“Greta Thunberg can easily be termed the ideal leader of the Global Climate Strike. The passionate young lady coming fcourage and actions as well as words are heartening for everyone. I admire her ambition and will to speak up, she is doing more than most teenagers her age. However, I question if she really has any understanding of the science behind climate given how much school she misses. The science of climate change is not fully understood by anyone, but the field is full of many people who enjoy making predictions that lack accuracy. Despite this, Greta Thunberg has managed to appeal to a new generation to fight for issues such as pollution and irresponsible use of resources. Her Global Climate Strike is about more than climate, it is about empowering young people to speak up and take an active role in shaping the kind of world we live in.”
In the Netherlands there is an initiative of CLINTEL to broaden scientific debate by not only focussing on CO2 as a cause of global warming. Is it effective?
One has to be patient and politely point out how the observations support/differ from climate models. The worst thing for the climate fanatics would be if governments implement their espoused policies. Once, people see oil and natural gas taxes spiral upwards, they will rebel. The taxes will be decreased and the regulations delayed.
Like most people, I want to protect and improve our environment. I am also very supportive of energy conservation and expanding research. Unfortunately, developing a better battery has proved to be a difficult undertaking even after a century of effort. Similarly, a better understanding of the climate using more extensive satellite monitoring as well as land and ocean measurements should be a very high international priority.
(Thanks to Guus Berkhout)
CV William van Wijngaarden