Today I would like to continue my series on the Four Pillars of Climate Alarmism. In my first speech, I outlined how the media and environmental extremists distorted, exaggerated, and mischaracterized a major climate change report from the National Academy of Sciences. I showed how the Left and the media exaggerated a document that contained numerous caveats about the uncertainties of current knowledge and the caution that its conclusions were tentative, proclaiming the report showed conclusively that global warming due to man is occurring.
In my second speech, I described some of the more serious, and indeed fatal, flaws in the 2001 Third Assessment Report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, also known as the IPCC. In that speech, I exposed how Michael Mann’s now infamous “hockey stick,” the flagship of the IPCC’s claims that global warming is real, has been thoroughly discredited in scientific circles. And that the IPCC’s projections of future carbon emissions – which drive temperature model conclusions – have been proven to be based on political decisions that, by the end of the century, countries like Libya will be as wealthy or wealthier than the United States.
Now I would like to examine the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report, which received considerable attention upon its release late last year. Last November, the Arctic Council, described as a “high-level international forum” that includes the United States, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, and Sweden, released a 140-page Arctic synthesis report, titled “Impacts of a Warming Arctic.” It details the major findings from the Arctic Council’s 1200-page Scientific Report, which will be released in the coming weeks.
The essence of the synthesis report is this: The Arctic is experiencing unprecedented climate change, caused in large part, if not entirely, by man-made greenhouse gas emissions, while projections show dramatic Arctic warming accompanied by even more pronounced changes that will have serious repercussions for the entire planet.
At first blush, the report appears to be quite impressive: It contains glossy photos, charts, and graphs, and was produced by some 300 scientists from several nations. But it lacks virtually any scientific documentation, which casts doubt on the report’s page after page of unqualified, matter-of-fact claims about Arctic warming. That documentation, we are told, is forthcoming in the more lengthy ‘Scientific Report’. So it’s unclear if the 140-page document accurately reflects the contents of the Scientific Report.
If it does, then the Scientific Report simply ignores or dismisses reams of peer-reviewed scientific work contradicting the Arctic Council’s conclusions. If it does not, then the synthesis report would appear to be an exercise in global warming propaganda.
The release of the report created a media sensation, with nearly every major news outlet declaring, once again, that the scientific “consensus” on global warming had been reaffirmed. Here was the Chicago Tribune’s report from November 24, 2004: “The council's 140-page report, four years in the making, warns of immense ice melts, a dramatic rise in ocean levels, the depletion of the Gulf Stream and other sea currents, wild fluctuations in weather patterns, increased ultraviolet radiation and wrenching dislocations in the food chain and habitat.”
In equally dramatic fashion, the Associated Press described the report this way: “This most comprehensive study of Arctic warming to date adds yet more impetus to the projections by many of the world's climate scientists that there will be a steady rise in global temperature as the result of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels and other sources.”
Such descriptions of the report are not far off the mark, and for good reason. In this case, the media and extremist groups got exactly what they wished for – 140 pages detailing a daunting list of projected environmental catastrophes: permafrost melting; infrastructure collapsing; glaciers vanishing; sea levels rising; coastal communities flooding; polar bears facing extinction.
Worse, the report’s authors left the impression that these scenarios were all but assured, despite the fact that the assumptions on which they are based are highly uncertain, a point I will examine later in this speech. Thus, no spin, distortion, or exaggeration on the media’s part was necessary.
The synthesis report constructs a deceptive picture of climate changes that have occurred in the Arctic over the last 30 years, particularly with respect to temperature change. A major piece of evidence supporting the Arctic Council’s alarmist conclusions is the Arctic’s “unprecedented” temperature increase over the last several decades. The report’s authors make the following statement on page 23: “Examining the record of past climatic conditions indicates that the amount, speed, and pattern of warming experienced in recent decades are indeed unusual and are characteristic of the human-caused increase in greenhouse gases.”
Specifically, according to the Council, annual average temperature in the Arctic has increased at almost twice the rate of the rest of the world, while winter temperatures in Alaska and western Canada have increased about 3-4 degrees Celsius over the past half-century, with larger increases projected in the next 100 years.
Surely this is proof of unprecedented, human-induced warming, and of worrisome warming trends for the future? Not quite. Let’s take a closer look at the peer-reviewed literature on the temperature history of the Arctic, which the Arctic Council’s synthesis report ignored.
First, in the November 2002 issue of the journal Holocene, researchers examined proxy temperature data in Northern Russia spanning over 2,000 years. They found that “the warmest periods over the last two millennia in this region were clearly in the third, tenth to twelfth, and during the twentieth centuries.” The earlier periods, they claim, were warmer than those of the 20th century, while 20th century temperatures appeared to peak around 1940.
For a much broader perspective on Arctic temperatures, one can read the 2003 paper by researcher Igor Polyakov in the journal EOS, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. In the paper, titled “Trends and Variations in Arctic Climate Systems,” Polyakov studied land and ocean data from northward of latitude 62.5° N, dating back to 1870. As is obvious from this chart, one can see that current temperature over the entire region is similar to that measured seventy years ago. According to Polyakov, “Two distinct warming periods from 1920 to 1945, and from 1975 to the present, are clearly evident.” He goes on to note that “compared with the global and hemispheric temperature rise, the high-latitude temperature increase was stronger in the late 1930s to the early 1940s than in recent decades.”
Strangely, there’s no mention of this in the Arctic report. But alarmists don’t seem to care. They would probably respond that “300 scientists from all over the world believe such warming is occurring. You, sir, have merely identified two whose research presents a contrary view.” To answer that charge, I will submit for the record an impressive list of scientists from several countries, including the United States, whose peer-reviewed work shows current Arctic temperatures are no higher than temperatures recorded in the 1930s and 1940s.
Let me quote from a few salient examples. In a 2003 issue of the Journal of Climate, 7 researchers concluded the following: “In contrast to the global and hemispheric temperature, the maritime Arctic temperature was higher in the late 1930s through the early 1940s than in the 1990s.” Here’s another excerpt from the 2000 International Journal of Climatology, by Dr. Rajmund Przybylak, of Nicholas Copernicus University, in Torun, Poland. It reads: “The highest temperatures since the beginning of instrumental observation occurred clearly in the 1930s and can be attributed to changes in atmospheric circulation.” Finally, in 2001, researchers examined a 10,000-year span of sea core sediment in the Chukchi Sea, and concluded that “in the recent past, the western Arctic Ocean was much warmer than it is today.” They also found that “during the middle Holocene [approximately 6,000 years ago] the August sea surface temperature fluctuated by 5 degrees Celsius and was 3-7 degrees Celsius warmer than it is today.” Obviously, the middle Holocene period was not known for SUVs and coal-fired power plants.
To get a fuller sense of the report’s bias, consider the Arctic Council’s geographical definition of “the Arctic.” This is important because the temperature record differs depending on one’s definition. The Arctic report’s temperature record includes data from northward of latitude 60°N. Why the Arctic Council chose this point is not explained. In fact, the report’s authors responsible for defining the Arctic admitted last November that their choice was arbitrary.
The Arctic Council’s starting point is problematic for two reasons. First, Dr. George Taylor, Oregon’s state climatologist and a past president of the American Association of State Climatologists recently examined Arctic temperature trends using different starting points. As Dr. Taylor found, “[u]sing 60ºN introduced a lot of…questionable Siberian stations.” In other words, measurements at that point are based in part on bad data.
Second, other researchers see the Arctic differently, and probably more accurately when describing long-term temperature trends. Polyakov, for example, defined Arctic as northward of 62.5°N. This 2.5-degree difference is not trivial. Temperatures can change significantly between 62.5° and 60°N. In fact, pushing the geographical boundaries southward, as the Arctic Council did, contributes to a substantial upward bias in temperature measurements.
Not only was the Arctic region arbitrarily defined, it appears that marine and coastal-based data were arbitrarily excluded from the report’s temperature record. This is strange, considering two-thirds of the Arctic is covered by the Arctic Ocean. So it seems unreasonable to use only land-based stations, as the Arctic Council did, and not to include coastal stations, Russian drifting stations in the Arctic Ocean, and drifting buoys from the International Buoy Programme, as Polyakov and his colleagues did.
Using such data reveals a less dramatic temperature picture than the Arctic Council’s. In 1993, University of Wisconsin climatologist Jonathan Kahl examined declassified data collected over the Artic Ocean during the Cold War. In a paper in the journal Nature, Kahl found an “absence of evidence for greenhouse warming over the Arctic Ocean in the past 40 years” and a net decline in Arctic temperature. Admittedly, Kahl’s temperature history stretches only from 1958 to 1986. But more importantly, it relies on marine and coastal-based data.
Dr. Taylor was among many mystified by these omissions. For him, there is only one possible explanation: “The [Arctic Climate Impact Assessment] appears to be guilty of selective use of data.” He further explained, “Many of the trends described in the document begin in the 1960s or 1970s – cool decades in much of the world – and end in the warmer 1990s or early 2000s. So, for example, temperatures have warmed in the last 40 years, and the implication, ‘if present trends continue,’ is that massive warming will occur in the next century. Yet data are readily available for the 1930s and early 1940s, when temperatures were comparable to (and probably higher than) those observed today. Why not start the trend there? Because there is no net warming over the last 65 years?”
ARCTIC GLACIERS/SEA ICE
In the pop culture version of global warming, there is no greater attraction than melting glaciers and sea ice. Press accounts appear daily of new studies purporting to show widespread glacial retreat stemming from man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Warnings abound that this melting will cause a calamitous rise in sea levels.
True to form, the Arctic Council follows the same story line, asserting that, “glaciers throughout the Arctic are melting.” “This process is already under way,” the report states, “with the widespread retreat of glaciers, snow cover, and sea ice. This is one reason why climate change is more rapid in the Arctic than elsewhere.” But is this really the case?
Interestingly, the IPCC Third Assessment Report references peer-reviewed studies that contradict the Arctic Council’s assessments. The IPCC, an organization convinced of the validity of the global warming consensus, noted that, “Glaciers and ice caps in the Arctic also have shown retreat in low-lying areas since about 1920,” but also stated, “However, no increasing melting trend has been observed during the past 40 years.”
Sonar data on sea ice collected in the 1990s also tell a different story. As the BBC wrote in 2001: “The latest and most comprehensive analysis yet of the sonar data collected in the 1990s shows little if any thinning — at least towards the end of that decade. Indeed, at the North Pole, there are indications in the data that the ice even got a little thicker.”
Among other omissions, the Arctic Council gave little weight to the observed variability of Arctic sea ice thickness. The term “observed variability” of sea ice thickness has specific meaning in the Arctic: Scientists estimate that sea ice mass there can vary by as much as 16 percent in a single year. As Dr. Seymour Laxon, a lecturer in the Department of Space and Climate Physics at the University College London, explained, “The observed variability of Arctic sea ice thickness contrasts with the concept of a slowly dwindling ice pack, produced by global warming.”
So what causes these variations in sea ice mass? In 2002, Dr. Greg Holloway, of the Institute for Ocean Sciences in Sidney, Canada, and his colleague Dr. Tessa Sou, showed that decadal wind pattern changes caused a shifting of Artic sea ice, creating thinner ice in some regions and thicker ice in others. As Dr. Holloway explained, “It's a circumstance where the ice tends to leave the central Arctic and then mostly pile up against the Canadian side, before moving back into the central Arctic again.” Based on this research, Dr. Holloway believes that “we have been a little bit overly stampeded into the idea that there is a terribly alarming melting taking place.”
Holloway is not alone in his assessment. In 2003, German researchers Cornelia Koeberle and Ruediger Gerdes found evidence of natural “wind stress” strongly affecting variability in Arctic sea ice. “The results make connecting ‘global warming’ to Arctic ice thinning very difficult for two reasons,” the researchers wrote. “First, the large decadal and longer-term variability masks any trend…Second, the wind stress strongly affects the long-term development of ice volume. A long-term change in wind stress over the Arctic, possibly by an increase in the number of atmospheric circulation states that favor ice export, would affect the ice volume in a similar manner as a temperature increase.”
GREENLAND ICE SHEET
In addition to questionable claims about Arctic sea ice, the Arctic report includes dubious projections about the Greenland Ice Sheet. Climate models, the Arctic Council reports, “project that local warming in Greenland will exceed 3 degrees Celsius during this century.” The result? “Ice sheet models project that a warming of that magnitude would initiate the long-term melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet.” And furthermore, “Even if climatic conditions then stabilized, an increase of this magnitude is projected to lead eventually (over centuries) to a virtually complete melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, resulting in a global sea level rise of about seven meters.”
This sounds ominous, but again, peer-reviewed literature on the subject, excluded from the Arctic report, tells a countervailing story. For example, a team of experts at Los Alamos National Laboratory recently examined Greenland’s instrumental surface temperatures. Here’s what they found: “Since 1940, however, the Greenland coastal stations data have undergone predominantly a cooling trend. At the summit of the Greenland ice sheet, the summer average temperature has decreased at the rate of 2.2 [degrees Celsius] per decade since the beginning of the measurements in 1987.”
Finally, the report’s projections for the Greenland ice sheet, glaciers, and sea ice were based on data obtained from global climate models. Those projections assume anthropogenic warming, and proceed to show a gradual but persistent melting of glaciers and ice, leading to a dangerous rise in sea levels. However, as climate scientists have repeatedly pointed out, climate models are highly imperfect. In fact, they are notoriously inaccurate in how they simulate the complexities of the climate system.
This is especially true of Arctic climate. According to a letter signed by 11 climate scientists, sent to the Senate Commerce Committee last fall, “Arctic climate varies dramatically from one region to another, and over time in ways that cannot be accurately reproduced by climate models. The quantitative impacts of natural and anthropogenic factors remain highly uncertain, especially for a region as complex as the Arctic.”
Researchers associated with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks wholeheartedly endorsed this view. They recently wrote, “Unfortunately, most global climate models are not capable of sufficiently reproducing the climatological state of the Arctic Ocean, sea ice and atmosphere...as [an] example, the simulated sea ice thickness is overestimated, and its overall pattern is in error, with the thickest ice located in the Siberian instead of the Canadian sector of the Arctic Ocean.”
Based on these well-documented technological constraints, how can one take seriously the Artic Council’s claim that “While the models differ in their projections of some of the features of climate change, they are all in agreement that the world will warm significantly as a result of human activities and that the Arctic is likely to experience noticeable warming particularly early and intensely”?
The alarmist nature of the Arctic report is to be expected. How else can they justify its enormous costs of regulating carbon dioxide? And we know the costs of this would be enormous. Wharton Econometrics Forecasting Associates estimates that implementing Kyoto would cost an American family of four $2,700 annually. Acknowledging the holes in the science underlying claims of catastrophic global warming would undermine their agenda. And what is that agenda? Two international leaders have said it best. Margot Wallstrom, the EU’s Environment Commissioner, states that Kyoto is “about leveling the playing field for big businesses worldwide.” French President Jacques Chirac said during a speech at the Hague in November 2000 that Kyoto represents “the first component of an authentic global governance.”
Based on these and other major deficiencies, the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment hardly serves as compelling proof that greenhouse gas emissions are causing unprecedented changes in Arctic climate, or that trends point to a future marred by widespread damage to Arctic ecosystems. And to be sure, the report fails to provide a thorough, balanced, comprehensive overview of the most compelling research on Arctic climate.
Instead, the so-called “synthesis report” is a biased, selective examination of climate trends in the Arctic. It completely ignores well-known, established facts. For instance, it is firmly established that Arctic temperatures in the late 1930s and early ‘40s were higher than in the ‘90s and that Greenland’s temperatures in recent decades have undergone a cooling trend. It is also well known that sea ice mass can vary by as much as 16 percent in a single year. Moreover, this report fails the test of transparency and openness and lacks virtually any documentation. It reads more like an ideological tome. Extremist groups are even using it as a legal brief to sue energy producers on behalf of Arctic peoples. Hardly surprising.
Dr. George Taylor, Oregon’s state climatologist, succinctly described the report when he said: “Nice graphics but bad science.”