March 12, 2009

Highlights of the 2009 International Conference on Climate Change

Filed under: Climate History

We are just back from the 2009 International Conference on Climate Change sponsored by the Heartland Institute, aka “the global warming skeptics” conference. There were about twice as many attendees at this year’s conference (the second annual) than at last year’s inaugural meeting—an indication, at the very least, that the skeptical view of global warming is not fading away.

In fact, the behavior of the earth’s climate in recent years (a slowdown in the rate of global warming and sea level rise) has emboldened climate skeptics and is helping to win over public opinion that much of what they hear about global warming and its ill effects are exaggerations of the most likely outcome. Andy Revkin of the New York Times writes about a just-released Gallup poll that shows that a growing number of Americans think that the “seriousness of global warming” is being “exaggerated” in the news. The Gallup’s findings are similar to other recent poll results that also show that global warming is not high on American’s list of concerns.

There are both good and bad aspects of the recent growth in the popularity of the skeptical viewpoint. The good is that more and more attention is being drawn to the serious science issues of the day—climate sensitivity, climate feedbacks, and local/regional vs. global change. Bad is that more and more attention is also being heaped upon likable but scientifically illogical takes on things—that humans aren’t responsible for the observed atmospheric increases of carbon dioxide, that the enhanced greenhouse effect won’t warm the climate, or that natural factors can explain a large majority of recent warming. Since these last items tend to take the issue of a human impact on the climate off the table, they are much loved by politicians (and others) fighting to keep CO2-restricting legislation off the books. Unfortunately, they are wrong.

Anthropogenic activities (primarily the burning of fossil fuels) are the cause of the increased atmospheric concentrations of CO2, enhancing the earth’s greenhouse effect does increase the global average temperature, and the combination of the two is responsible for much of the observed “global warming” of the past 30 years or so.

In light of all this, we present some of the science highlights of the conference (or at least those portions of it for which we were in attendance, sorry if we missed you!).


Stan Goldenberg of the Hurricane Research Division (HRD) of NOAA gave edge-of-your-seat description of his up close and personal adventures with hurricanes (he had to rush home after the birth a daughter to help protect his other family members from the fury of Hurricane Andrew—it destroyed his house, but all inside it were OK and the hospital housing his wife and new-born daughter laid just outside of the zone of devastating destruction, and he was in the hurricane hunter aircraft, in the eye of Katrina, when it made landfall in Louisiana) and why he does not believe that “global warming” is having, or will have, and significant impact on Atlantic hurricanes.

Paul Reiter of the Institut Pasteur in Paris is another on the ground, in the fight, type of a guy, but in his case, he is not tangling with hurricanes, but with infectious diseases. In his presentation, he described an on-going, multi-national effort he is involved in to determine the effects of climate (and climate change) on a variety of animal-to-human spread disease. His overarching conclusions are that there are many, many pathways that impact disease outbreak, and that isolating climate change is both difficult and impractical. Simplistic analysis that claim to have done so, in his opinion, are largely the result of misplaced/misunderstood cause and effect.

Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama-Huntsville gave a compelling presentation as to the difficulties is determining the size and direction of the feedbacks of temperature changes and cloud cover. He told the audience that basically it is impossible to determine which comes first, the changes in temperature or the changes in cloud cover, and that therefore, determining whether the climate feedbacks to enhancing greenhouse gas levels are negative or positive is far from being either straightforward, or close to being settled. He stresses that much more research is needed in this important (if not the most important) topic in climate change science.

Craig Idso of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change described his recent review of the scientific literature on the effect of CO2 and global warming on coral reefs. He reviewed literature on topics of both coral bleaching and ocean acidification and found that many in situ experiments (as opposed to ones conducted in the constrained confines of aquariums) tend to show that coral and other calcifying organisms demonstrate a strong capacity to adapt to changing conditions in the ocean environment. Thus, claims of impending extinctions of many marine species as a result of climate change are not supported by real world evidence.

Pat Michaels of the Cato Institute (and editor of this blog) ran through the highlights of our recent reviews of the EPA’s documents used in support of its looming decision to regulate CO2 emissions under the Clean Air Act. On slide after slide, he showed that real world observations show virtually the opposite trends than those which the EPA project are going to occur from global warming. His bottom line was that what is actually taking place, even as the climate has been changing, is completely different from how the EPA envisions things to evolve. In other words, the EPA and the models for which it relies upon are out of touch with reality.

Joel Schwartz presented a parallel presentation in which he further demonstrated that the trends in human health and air pollution were towards a declining sensitivity to the climate rather than towards enhanced sensitivity as the prevailing projections of such impacts, made by the EPA and others, foretell. Again, real world observations tell a different story than doom and gloom projections.

Others who told similar tales that the true state of things are greatly dissimilar to that which is often portrayed included Dave Legates (precipitation), Anthony Watts (temperature), and Steve McIntyre (paleotemperature), Bill Gray (ocean circulation), Richard Lindzen (climate sensitivity).

These results clearly show that active, quality research and analyses are being performed on important issues central to our understanding of climate change science and that the science is far from being “settled.”

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