Climate Change Made Easy: It's the Sun

Bob Foster

October 2003

The Quiet American. Remember Stephen H. Schneider? The Commission for the Future and CSIRO brought him to Australia as the drawcard for Greenhouse Action '88. (Yours truly was also a speaker.) Schneider transfixed our audience by warning that the "strong opinion" of climatologists was that the atmosphere would warm as much in the next 50 years as in the past 15,000. Undaunted by his earlier scaremongering, CSIRO brought him back in 2001 to present its annual Priestley Lecture: "Is climate science mature enough for policy making?"

Earth in the Balance. Schneider revisited policy-making in his contribution to the Scientific American (January 2002) attack on "the skeptical environmentalist", Bjørn Lomborg:

...uncertainties so infuse the issue of climate change that it is still impossible to rule out either mild or catastrophic outcomes ... Even the most credible international assessment body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has refused to attempt subjective probabilistic estimates of future temperatures. This has forced politicians to make their own guesses about the likelihood of various degrees of global warming. Will temperatures in 2100 increase by 1.4 degrees Celsius or by 5.8? The difference means relatively adaptable changes or very damaging ones.

Schneider's analysis contains at least two serious flaws. It assumes that IPCC is, in fact, able to calculate the likely range of global temperature increase between 1990 and 2100 (1.4--5.8 ºC). And, following IPCC, it accepts that the actual outcome will depend on how we treat our planet in the interim, in terms of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. (The main anthropogenic GHG is CO2, mostly from fossil-fuel use; and coal is the most carbon-intensive fuel.) Below, I show why IPCC's projected range of warming is worthless as a guide to policymakers.

Our Common Future. The underpinning for IPCC's projections is its Special Report on Emission Scenarios. But the SRES's A1 "storyline", setting the high end of the range (5.8 ºC), is neither science nor economics. Instead, it reflects the yearning for social equity of the SRES economists. A1's basis is the achievement in the century ahead of a very substantial catch-up of living standards in the LDCs to those of the developed world. The result is a world where nearly everyone is rich. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, of course; but, it needs an almost-unimaginable increase in Third World per-capita GDP by 2100. Even the low-end of IPCC's range (1.4 ºC) is deeply deceptive. It is based on SRES's slightly less fantastic, but still highly implausible, B1 storyline---where "the emphasis is on global solutions to economic, social and environmental sustainability, including improved equity". This is no 'range'.

IPCC's catch-up storylines yield extraordinary results for individual countries (see Table). But first, a caveat: for purposes of approval/publication, IPCC divided the world into four economic units only. Thus, the down-scaling to country-level is unofficial; and furthermore, web access to these numbers now has been withdrawn. But, the country-projections are real in the sense that totals for the four larger units encompass them. Individually approved or not, reducing one country's quite incredible GDP growth would imply increasing that for another.

Economic Basis for IPCC's Highest & Lowest Emissions Scenarios

(National GDP in thousands of 1990 US dollars per-capita, using market exchange rates)
  1990 actual 2100 high-end (A1) 2100 low-end (B1)
  United States 23.2 114 79
  Australia 17 61 55
  Argentina 6.5 152 90
  South Africa 4 470 364
  China (PRC) 1.9 78 39
  India 1.3 36 32

(More A1 outcomes: S. Korea 653, Malaysia 208, Russia 170, Canada 88, Zimbabwe 87, Afghanistan 78, Indonesia 68, Turkey 12.)


How can two implausibly-high projections of Third World economic growth provide bounds to the plausible range? They can't, of course. IPCC has achieved its range by assuming large or small contributions by coal to the satisfaction of energy demand in its best of all possible worlds. Coal production is given as 84 exajoules in its 1990 base-year (about 3.3 billion tonnes on a hard coal heating-equivalent basis), rising to 600 eJ in the coal-powered A1F1 "scenario", and falling to 40 eJ in the low-end B1 scenario-family.

Of the low-end case, we are told that "the central elements of the B1 future are a high level of environmental and social consciousness combined with a more globally coherent approach to a more sustainable development". Crucially, no believable level of economic growth has had applied to it successful decarbonisation initiatives such as dominate the B1 family. Instead, this implausible 'range' stems directly from the assumption that social equity is achieved.

Limits to Growth. IPCC's SRES analysts found that, in 1990, the developed world had a per-capita GDP some 16.7 times that of the LDCs. Their laudable wish that the ratio be reduced to 1.8 by 2100, calls for a projected increase of GDP in the 'have-not' regions by an incredible 65 times between 1990 and 2100---because GDP in the 'have' nations keeps growing. (Remember, Japan barely achieved x20 per-capita growth in the 20th Century. No others came close.)

Ian Castles (former Australian Statistician) finds that these analysts used market exchange rates to compare inter-country GDPs in 1990. In his expert opinion, they should have used purchasing power parities. Correct analysis would have revealed that the 1990 gap was not 16.7 times but x6.2. Thus the GDP increase necessary to shrink the gap to x1.8 would have been x24.5 rather than x65. If IPCC should surprise us by re-working its flawed economics, policymakers may still have to wait until its Fourth Assessment Report (due in 2007) for the results. In the interim, I rely entirely on IPCC's current numbers. Also, as IPCC's range of temperature projections lacks a credible low-end, I will confine my analysis to the origins of its high-end 5.8 ºC.

Future Shock. Atmospheric CO2 concentration at Mauna Loa is known since 1958 (315 ppm); and in 2002, an increase of 2.0 ppm brought it to 373 ppm. During the cooler years until 1976, the average annual increase was only about 1 ppm; and since the Great Pacific Climate Shift of 76/77---with its abrupt increase of sea-surface temperature---the average is still below 2 ppm. In fact, annual increase correlates better with SST variation than with human-caused emissions.

From IPCC's "fossil intensive" AIFI scenario is derived a CO2 concentration of 970 ppm in 2100, to which then is added 30% for "uncertainties"---thus yielding an amazing 1260 ppm. This outcome would mean an average annual increase of 9 ppm for the next 98 years!

Animal Farm. But more insidious than inexpert economists, is the fixation of IPCC's modellers with radiative forcing as the principal driver of climate change. Bad science = bad models.

The theory goes: greenhouse is a phenomenon of the atmosphere, because that is where human-caused greenhouse gas emissions will accumulate. GHGs in the atmosphere are transparent to incoming short-wave radiation from the Sun; but trap long-wave returns to Space. Hence, the lower atmosphere warms up because of the increasing GHG concentration. The extra warmth is then redistributed in turn---some upward as before, and some back to Earth's surface (IPCC's "radiative forcing"). The resultant surface warming is the "greenhouse effect".

IPCC's general circulation models (having radiative forcing as their driver) tell us that: the lower atmosphere warms up because of GHG emissions (obviously, the greenhouse effect warming at the surface can't be faster); as more outgoing heat is now trapped in the lower atmosphere, less than previously escapes to Space; and the consequent near-surface warming is greatest in polar regions (eg. Greenland up to x3 the global average). IPCC invokes seven models with varying responses to increasing GHG concentration, from which it selects 1.7--4.2 ºC warming as its range of sensitivities for atmospheric CO2 doubling. It combines the highest CO2 concentration with the highest sensitivity to conjure-up 5.8 ºC of projected warming.

But weather-balloon records, supported by a global coverage from weather-satellites since 1979, show that the lower atmosphere is warming less than half as fast as the surface; and more (not less) heat is now escaping from the top of the atmosphere. Also, the Poles are not warming as fast as the on-land temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The simplest explanation is: most surface warming since the 76/77 Climate Shift was not caused by the greenhouse effect. Furthermore, 20th Century surface warming (0.6 +/- 0.2 ºC) was in two roughly-equal tranches---before 1945, and after 1976. Therefore, much warming preceded the sky-rocketting fossil-fuel use which is claimed as its cause. There can be no doubt: IPCC's models are fatally flawed. Policymakers---you are on your own now. (But, what did cause the warming? Presumably, some comes from land-use-change, urban-heat-island, and emission (soot/sulphate/GHG) effects; but most is unrelated to human activities. It is still the Sun which drives our climate.)

Some like it Hot. Why not curtail CO2 emissions anyway? Surely, all pollutants are bad. But this gas is not 'dirty'; on the contrary, it is a natural atmospheric constituent. Many extant plant families evolved when its concentration was x5 or more that of today. Commercial growers enrich the atmosphere in their greenhouses by adding CO2---to make their plants grow better. Greening of the extra-tropical Northern Hemisphere over the decades of satellite observation, further attests to the benefits of CO2 fertilization. There is no known justification in terms of atmospheric 'pollution', or climate 'stabilisation', to limit the CO2 output of (for instance) coal-fired power generation. What about CO2 sequestration? It offers no environmental benefit which could justify the increased cost of electricity. In fact, without the presence of this vital plant food in the atmosphere, we would not even be here.

Although the US (25% of the world total), Russia and China have larger coal reserves, Australia, with its easily-accessible low-sulphur steaming and coking coal, is the largest exporter. It won't help 'stabilise' global climate; but denying citizens and export customers ready access to our world-class resources, will hurt jobs and living standards. Habitat destruction continues on a vast scale in our region: Queensland, Kalimantan, Melanesia---while we divert environmental effort to building wind farms. Remember, these bird-killers are only competitive with our low-cost coal because Government has rigged the market for electricity so produced.

Worlds in Collision. It is an un-amazing fact that solar/planetary/galactic influences are the dominant driver of our Ice Age climate---from the 100,000-year cycle of 90,000-year Glacials, and 10,000-year Interglacials (such as that we now enjoy), right down to El Niño and La Niña episodes recurrent within a single decade. The Mediaeval Warm Period (AD800-1200) and Little Ice Age (1300-1900) are manifestations of a warm/cold cycle of intermediate length at a variable period of roughly 1500 years. Subsequent to the desperate depths of the Little Ice Age (Maunder Minimum, 1650--1710), I am happy to report a renewed warming trend.

But climate continues to fluctuate; and overprinted on this trend is a shorter 50/80-year cycle. The Shift of 1976/77, the most prominent climatic event of the 20th Century, introduced the latest warmer phase. It began with an abrupt warming of the NE Pacific sea-surface (because of the reduced up-welling of cold, deep water); and its influence now extends far beyond the Pacific Basin. This striking event was associated with a change in the rate-of-change of length-of-day; hence, it was momentum-related. Absent a surge of continental ice into the sea at that time, the attendant major changes in oceanic and atmospheric circulation---which directly influenced climate---were most probably the result of solar/planetary inertial forcing.

The Sun is not at the precise centre of rotation for our Solar System, but bobbles around it as tweaked by the giant planets. Consequent momentum changes in the Sun induce solar eruptions, and hence cause wide variations in solar magnetic output. These in turn vary the degree to which the solar wind provides shielding to Earth from the incidence of climate-influencing galactic cosmic rays. (The Sun's radiant-heat output also varies, but recent changes in solar radiative forcing appear not large enough to be the main direct driver of contemporary climate change.)

Some claim climate is chaotic, and hence, prediction is impossible. IPCC claims that climate is now driven by human-caused GHG emissions, and change can be modelled---if emissions can be predicted. But the Sun has not resigned from the climate-change game. Furthermore, behaviour of the Solar System is not chaotic; and a well-resourced analysis of the relationship between the solar torque cycle and climate might enable us to do what IPCC cannot do---predict climate change. (Theodor Landscheidt has enjoyed notable success in predicting El Niño events by this means---search "Landscheidt" at for his innovative work.)

A Time to Choose. No amount of "doing the right thing" about greenhouse gas emissions can stop climate from changing; and devastating weather extremes will keep coming. Applying the precautionary principle to climate or weather is a waste of money and zeal. Now is the time for policymakers to abandon their futile and costly efforts to 'stabilise' climate, and choose instead to concentrate on the mitigation of human misery and environmental degradation.

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