- Global Warming? An Israeli Astrophysicist Provides Alternative View That Is Not Easy To Reject - Forbes
- Farmers Don’t Need to Read the Science. We Are Living It. - The New York Times
- Climate change is going to upset global food supplies and make Dust Bowl summers look tame - Massive Science
Posted: 09 Aug 2019 03:58 AM PDT
The U.S. auto industry and regulators in California and Washington appear deadlocked over stiff Obama-era fuel-efficiency standards that automakers oppose and the Trump administration have vowed to roll back – an initiative that has environmental activists up in arms.
California and four automakers favor compromise, while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) supports the president's position that the federal standards are too strict. The EPA argues that forcing automakers to build more fuel efficient cars will make them less affordable, causing consumers to delay trading older, less efficient vehicles. Complicating matters is California's authority to create its own air quality standards, which the White House vows to end.
However the impasse is resolved, the moment looks ripe to revisit the root of this multifactorial dustup: namely, the scientific "consensus" that CO2 emissions from vehicles and other sources are pushing the earth to the brink of climate catastrophe.
In a modest office on the campus of Jerusalem's Hebrew University, an Israeli astrophysicist patiently explains why he is convinced that the near-unanimous judgments of climatologists are misguided. Nir Shaviv, chairman of the university's physics department, says that his research and that of colleagues, suggests that rising CO2 levels, while hardly insignificant, play only a minor role compared to the influence of the sun and cosmic radiation on the earth's climate.
"Global warming clearly is a problem, though not in the catastrophic terms of Al Gore's movies or environmental alarmists," said Shaviv. "Climate change has existed forever and is unlikely to go away. But CO2 emissions don't play the major role. Periodic solar activity does."
Shaviv, 47, fully comprehends that his scientific conclusions constitute a glaring rebuttal to the widely-quoted surveys showing that 97% of climate scientists agree that human activity – the combustion of fossil fuels – constitutes the principle reason for climate change.
"Only people who don't understand science take the 97% statistic seriously," he said. "Survey results depend on who you ask, who answers and how the questions are worded. In any case, science is not a democracy. Even if 100% of scientists believe something, one person with good evidence can still be right."
History is replete with lone voices toppling scientific orthodoxies. Astronomers deemed Pluto the ninth planet – until they changed their minds. Geologists once regarded tectonic plate theory, the movement of continents, as nonsense. Medical science was 100% certain that stomach resulted from stress and spicy food, until an Australian researcher proved bacteria the culprit and won a Nobel Prize for his efforts.
Lest anyone dismiss Shaviv on the basis of his scientific credentials or supposed political agenda, consider the following: He enrolled at Israel's Technion University – the country's equivalent of MIT – at the age of 13 and earned an MA while serving in the Israel Defense Force's celebrated 8200 Intelligence unit. He returned to Technion, where he earned his doctorate, afterward completing post-doctoral work at California Institute of Technology and the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics. He also has been an Einstein Fellow at The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.
In other words, he knows tons more about science than Donald Trump or Al Gore.
As for politics "in American terms, I would describe myself as liberal on most domestic issues, somewhat hawkish on security," he said. Nonetheless, the Trump administration's position on global climate change, he said, is correct insofar as it rejects the orthodoxy of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC's findings and conclusions are updated every six years; the latest report, released this week, noted that deforestation and agribusiness are contributing to CO2 emissions and aggravating climate change.
In 2003, Shaviv and research partner Prof. Jan Veizer published a paper on the subject of climate sensitivity, namely how much the earth's average temperature would be expected to change if the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is doubled. Comparing geological records and temperature, the team came up with a projected change of 1.0 to 1.5 degrees Celsius – much less than the 1.5 to 4.5 degree change the IPCC has used since it began issuing its reports. The reason for the much wider variation used by the IPCC, he said, was that they relied almost entirely on simulations and no one knew how to quantify the effect of clouds – which affects how much radiant energy reaches the earth – and other factors.
"Since then, literally billions have been spent on climate research," he said. Yet "the conventional wisdom hasn't changed. The proponents of man-made climate change still ignore the effect of the sun on the earth's climate, which overturns our understanding of twentieth-century climate change."
He explained: "Solar activity varies over time. A major variation is roughly eleven years or more, which clearly affects climate. This principle has been generally known – but in 2008 I was able to quantify it by using sea level data. When the sun is more active, there is a rise in sea level here on earth. Higher temperature makes water expand. When the sun is less active, temperature goes down and the sea level falls – the correlation is as clear as day.
"Based on the increase of solar activity during the twentieth century, it should account for between half to two-thirds of all climate change," he said. "That, in turn, implies that climate sensitivity to CO2 should be about 1.0 degree when the amount of CO2 doubles."
The link between solar activity and the heating and cooling of the earth is indirect, he explained. Cosmic rays entering the earth's atmosphere from the explosive death of massive stars across the universe play a significant role in the formation of so-called cloud condensation nuclei needed for the formation of clouds. When the sun is more active, solar wind reduces the rate of cosmic rays entering the atmosphere. A more active solar wind leads to fewer cloud formation nuclei, producing clouds that are less white and less reflective, thus warming the earth.
"Today we can demonstrate and prove the sun's effect on climate based on a wide range of evidence, from fossils that are hundreds of millions of years old to buoy readings to satellite altimetry data from the past few decades," he said. "We also can reproduce and mimic atmospheric conditions in the laboratory to confirm the evidence.
"All of it shows the same thing, the bulk of climate change is caused by the sun via its impact on atmospheric charge," he said. "Which means that most of the warming comes from nature, whereas a doubling of the amount of CO2 raises temperature by only 1.0 to 1.5 degrees. A freshman physics student can see this."
Nevertheless, the world of climate science has "mostly ignored" his research findings. "Of course, I'm frustrated," he said. "Our findings are very inconvenient for conventional wisdom" as summarized by the IPCC. "We know that there have been very large variations of climate in the past that have little to do with the burning of fossil fuels. A thousand years ago the earth was as warm as it is today. During the Little Ice Age three hundred years ago the River Thames froze more often. In the first and second IPCC reports these events were mentioned. In 2001 they disappeared. Suddenly no mention of natural warming, no Little Ice Age. The climate of the last millennium was presented as basically fixed until the twentieth century. This is a kind of Orwellian cherry-picking to fit a pre-determined narrative."
Shaviv says that he has accepted no financial support for his research by the fossil fuel industry. Experiments in Denmark with Prof. Henrik Svensmark and others to demonstrate the effect of cosmic rays on cloud formation were supported by the Carlsberg Foundation. In the U.S. the conservative Heartland Institute and the European Institute for Climate and Energy have invited him to speak, covering travel expenses.
"The real problem is funding from funding agencies like the National Science Foundation because these proposals have to undergo review by people in a community that ostracizes us," he said, because of his non-conventional viewpoint.
"Global warming is not a purely scientific issue any more," he said. "It has repercussions for society. It has also taken on a moralistic, almost religious quality. If you believe what everyone believes, you are a good person. If you don't, you are a bad person. Who wants to be a sinner?"
Any scientist who rejects the UN's IPCC report, as he does, will have trouble finding work, receiving research grants or publishing, he said.
In Shaviv's view, the worldwide crusade to limit and eventually ban the use of fossil fuels isn't just misguided "it comes with real world social and economic consequences." Switching to more costly energy sources, for example, will drive industry from more industrialized countries to poorer countries that can less afford wind turbines and solar panels.
"It may be a financial sacrifice the rich are willing to make," he said. "Even in developed countries the pressure to forego fossil fuel puts poor people in danger of freezing during the winter for lack of affordable home heating. The economic growth of third world countries will be inhibited if they cannot borrow from the World Bank to develop cheap fossil-based power plants. These are serious human problems in the here and now, not in a theoretical future."
For Shaviv, the rejection and closed-mindedness his minority view provoke may contain a silver lining. Just think of the acclaim that awaits if his research -- and scientific reconsideration of the current orthodoxy -- one day proves persuasive.
Posted: 09 Aug 2019 03:00 AM PDT
FIREBAUGH, Calif. — Many farmers probably haven't read the new report from the United Nations warning of threats to the global food supply from climate change and land misuse. But we don't need to read the science — we're living it.
Here in the San Joaquin Valley, one of the world's most productive agricultural regions, there's not much debate anymore that the climate is changing. The drought of recent years made it hard to ignore; we had limited surface water for irrigation, and the groundwater was so depleted that land sank right under our feet.
Temperatures in nearby Fresno rose to 100 degrees or above on 15 days last month, which was the hottest month worldwide on record, following the hottest June ever. (The previous July, temperatures reached at least 100 degrees on 26 consecutive days, surpassing the record of 22 days in 2005.) The heat is hard to ignore when you and your crew are trying to fix a broken tractor or harvest tomatoes under a blazing sun. As the world heats up, so do our soils, making it harder to get thirsty plants the water they need.
The valley's characteristic winter tule fog is also disappearing, and winters are getting warmer. Yields of many stone fruits and nuts that feed the country are declining because the trees require cool winters and those fogs trap cool air in the valley. Warm winters also threaten the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides 30 percent of California's water. We had a good wet winter this year, but a few years ago the snowpack was at its lowest level in 500 years. We also worry that last year's record California wildfires, which blanketed the valley with smoke for weeks, might become the new normal. I don't get sick much, but that summer I had a hard time breathing because of the congestion in my lungs.
The latest report from the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reinforces our anxiety. It warns of declines in food yields, instability in food supplies, increased soil erosion and threats to water availability in coming decades. The global food supply system is a big contributor of the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet, the report added. As The Times reported on Thursday, without "action on a sweeping scale" the warming climate will intensify "the world's droughts, flooding, heat waves, wildfires and other weather patterns" and speed up "the rate of soil loss and land degradation."
The good news is that farmers can be part of the solution. At our 4,000-acre farm, where we primarily grow tomatoes, we started planting winter crops that require less water, like garbanzo beans and garlic. When necessary, we leave some fields unplanted for part of the year to save water for our high-value almond and pistachio trees. We switched to drip irrigation long ago, which efficiently delivers water to crops at their roots under the soil, protected from the hot sun.
We try to take great care of our soil's health and we keep learning how to do it better. A living soil with lots of organic matter absorbs and holds more water and nutrients, retains more topsoil and grows healthier plants that survive increasing pressures from pests and diseases.
After harvesting our fall crops, we now use cover crops that return carbon and nitrogen to the soil and nourish the microbes and fungi essential for a living soil ecology. The plants and soil organisms work together to pull carbon out of the atmosphere and draw it down into the root zone. We minimize disturbance of our land by decreasing tillage, which protects these microorganisms and keeps carbon in the soil, where it belongs. Rather than being a source of carbon emissions, farms could store carbon where it's needed to grow food.
This has been good for our business, too. We spend less on water, energy and fertilizer and are getting good yields.
We and other farmers here are constantly experimenting with new approaches to keep soils healthy. We're part of a work group at the University of California, Davis, Cooperative Extension, where we learn about the science and share successes and failures with other farmers. Research and education like this are essential for farmers who are too busy growing food to keep up with the latest science and technologies.
The science is clear that the challenges facing agriculture will only become more difficult, and in unpredictable ways. Farmers will need more financial incentives to adopt practices that encourage healthy soils and water conservation, like government grants or cost-sharing arrangements. That kind of support would lower the barriers of cost and risk that farmers now face in trying new, climate-friendly ways of farming. With state-of-the-art science, innovation and sound public policy, farmers here and elsewhere in the United States can work to make sure this latest dire warning about the warming planet does not become self-fulfilling.
Alan Sano owns and operates Sano Farms.
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Posted: 08 Aug 2019 09:11 PM PDT
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released another report that spells out, in minute, devastating detail, what terrible shape Earth is in. Previously, they showed how human activities had wreaked havoc on the planet's species diversity. This new report issued on August 8th reveals how land and water are being abused, making food systems increasingly precarious and increasing the spread of desert and non-arable land.
If you follow climate change news or have been outside recently, you can probably imagine a lot of what's in the report. The rate of soil turning into desert is 10-100x faster than the formation of new soil. Land once suitable for agriculture is becoming sand. Precipitation all over the planet has increased, and extreme weather events have also increased over the past century in part because of this drying out. Unsurprisingly, this also feeds into increased risk of wildfires.
That's just part of the first data chapter. There's an introductory chapter, two more several-hundred-page-long data chapters, and a summary chapter, along with a summary for policymakers and...it goes on. Here's another example of the not-looming-it's-already-arrived crisis. More and more land has become subject to droughts, despite that increased global precipitation.
There are excellent summaries of the report in any number of outlets. Here's a good one. The most interesting/terrifying part to me comes when discussing food price spikes. It discusses the interconnected-ness of global food supplies. When one important crop region experiences (what used to be) abnormal climate, like in 2012 when US corn growing regions went through a drought, the effect is felt worldwide in changes in food price and availability all over the planet. Shockingly, if you take past extreme weather conditions and model what would happen if they occurred today, the results are catastrophic. I'll just quote (emphasis mine):
"A study simulating analogous conditions to the Dustbowl drought in today's agriculture suggests that Dust-Bowl-type droughts today would have unprecedented consequences, with yield losses about 50% larger than the severe drought of 2012 (Glotter and Elliott 2016). Damages at these extremes are highly sensitive to temperature, worsening by about 25% with each degree centigrade of warming. By mid-century, over 80% of summers are projected to have average temperatures that are likely to exceed the hottest summer in the Dustbowl years (1936) (Glotter and Elliott 2016)."
We're going to look back on the Dust Bowl as an enviable reverie of cool, damp weather.
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