William Happer’s Final Reply to Glenn Tamblyn

| TBS Staff

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I regret that Dr. Karoly, whose scientific achievements and integrity I respect, was unable to write a Detailed Response to my Major Statement: “CO2 will be a major benefit to the Earth.” But I will do my best to reply to his replacement, Glenn Tamblyn’s, Detailed Response to my Statement.

Mr. Tamblyn has produced not so much a response to my Statement, as a primer on global-warming alarmism, a whole list of scary talking points and computer-generated graphs, with occasional asides to deplore how obtuse I am for not understanding the gravity of this supposedly existential threat to the planet or how ignorant I am of basic physics.

Mr. Tamblyn begins his criticism of my Statement with this dismissive remark:

Professor Happer calculated the average temperature of the Earth using the Stefan-Boltzmann equation, arriving at a figure of 5 °C. However, his calculation contains a significant error — he doesn’t account for the 30% of sunlight that is reflected and isn’t absorbed! [original emphasis — eds.]

Here is what I actually wrote in my Statement:

A first estimate can be made with the celebrated Stefan-Boltzmann formula.

I did not pretend to a precise calculation of the average temperature of the Earth with its atmosphere and clouds. My approach was the classic one that has served physics so well over the centuries: start with the simplest model and then improve it. At the end of my short discussion of the Stefan-Boltzmann law, I said:

These estimates can be refined by taking into account the Earth’s atmosphere.

In connection with Figure 5 of my Statement, I said:

Much of the Earth is covered with clouds, which reflect about 30% of sunlight back into space, thereby preventing its absorption and conversion to heat.

What “significant error” is Mr. Tamblyn talking about?

As another example of Mr. Tamblyn’s style, in the first sentence of his section “Climate Sensitivity,” he says:

Professor Happer cites a graph from Fyfe et al. suggesting climate models underestimate warming. [emphasis added]

The title of the paper I cited was “Overestimated global warming over the past twenty years.”[1] The paper, published in Nature Climate Change, a generally alarmist journal, contains the unambiguous assertion — not suggestion — that models have significantly overestimated global warming over the past twenty years. Many other papers have stated exactly the same conclusion. But Mr. Tamblyn goes on to reassure readers that IPCC has explained away this “hiatus,” as it has done with any other awkward observational fact that casts doubt on their dogma of runaway global warming and other horrors from greenhouse gases.

The continued rationalizations by Mr. Tamblyn and the IPCC of ever-more-damning evidence against their alarmist party line reminds me of the lyrics of a wonderful old song:[2]

Well I came home the other night as drunk as I could be
I saw a horse in the stable where my horse ought to be
I said to my wife, my pretty little wife, explain this thing to me
What’s this horse doing here in the stable where my horse ought to be

Well, you old fool, you blind fool can’t you plainly see
It’s nothing but a milk cow that my mother sent to me
Ah, I’ve traveled this wide world over, ten thousand miles or more
But a saddle and a bridle on a milk cow I never did see before.

Mr. Tamblyn’s discussion of “ocean acidification” includes his Figure 15, which shows a partially dissolved shell of a pteropod, a small marine snail. This is supposedly evidence of the bleak future for pteropods and mankind because of “ocean acidification” from increasing atmospheric CO2.

The notorious figure reproduced by Tamblyn in his Response is propaganda, designed to frighten those who know nothing about ocean chemistry and how life adapts to it. Readers interested in the truth should read a fascinating essay by Jim Steele about pteropods and their shells.[3] Pteropod Even without ocean acidification, pteropod shells are so fragile that they usually dissolve before forming fossils.[4] And the sparse fossil record of pteropods [also known as “sea butterflies”; see right — eds.] extends back many tens of millions of years, to times when atmospheric CO2 levels were much higher than those today,[5] and when the ocean was more “acidic” (that is less basic), with surface pH values as low as pH = 7.6, compared to today’s typical values of pH = 8. Waters with pH values greater than 7 are basic, not acidic.

Mr. Tamblyn has done nothing to refute the main points of my Statement, so I will take this final opportunity to repeat them:

1. Climate models don’t work. They have predicted several times more warming from greenhouse gas increases than has been observed.

Like other apologists in the climate-science establishment, Mr. Tamblyn loves the word “cherry-picking.” This means that we should believe that climate models are right, even if the models predict far more warming than is observed (the “cherry”). After all, the models “predict” many other phenomena more or less correctly. But the failure of a model to agree with a single key experiment is enough to falsify it.

Newton’s laws of motion and the universal law of gravity are enough to precisely describe the orbits of the Earth and most of the other planets around the Sun. But they don’t fully explain the precession of the elliptical orbit of the planet Mercury. When Einstein and others pointed to the anomalous precession of Mercury’s orbit, were they “cherry-picking,” since Newton’s laws worked fine for the other planets? No! Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity shows that Newton’s laws are incorrect for large gravitational fields or rapidly accelerating objects. Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, experiences much larger gravitational fields and accelerations than other planets. Newton’s laws do not explain the gravitational waves recently observed on Earth with the LIGO observatory.[6] Einstein’s General Relativity does predict the conversion of huge amounts of gravitational energy to gravitational waves when black holes collapse into each other — the phenomenon that appears to have generated the observed waves.

A single, incisive experiment is sufficient to falsify a theory, even if the theory accurately explains many other experiments. Montgolfier Hot Air Balloon Climate models have been falsified because they have predicted much more warming than has been observed. The warming rate is perhaps the single most important thing that models should be able to predict, so getting the warming rate wrong is fatal. Other failures include the absence of the predicted hot spot in the upper troposphere of tropical latitudes.[7]

Mr. Tamblyn goes on and on about the various things that models predict correctly, for example, in connection with his Figure 1, that hot air rises. I am glad that the IPCC and Mr. Tamblyn got this right but it was understood well enough to the Montgolfier brothers in 1784 for them to risk their lives with the first hot-air balloon flight.[8] The IPCC and Mr. Tamblyn are pretty good at restating long-known facts that supposedly validate climate models.

In his Figure 6, Mr. Tamblyn shows how well models account for past temperatures. Of course, this is not really prediction, but rather fitting a curve to a known result. In my Detailed Response I already mentioned John von Neumann’s famous comment:[9]

With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.

From Figure 14 of my Major Statement, reproduced here as Figure 1, one can see that over the past few decades, the predicted surface temperature increases of almost all climate models greatly exceed the observed temperature increases. Similar comparisons of predicted tropospheric temperature increases with observed increases by John Christy[10] were shown in Figure 13 of my Statement, reproduced here as Figure 2. For both the troposphere and the surface, temperature increases predicted by models greatly exceed the increases that have been observed.

As illustrated in Figures 1 and 2, climate models have been falsified, since they don’t agree with observations. In any normal branch of science, one would go back to the drawing boards, try to find out what is wrong with the models, and generate new models that are better able to predict the future. But this has not happened in the climate-science establishment. Quite the contrary, some overzealous “scientists” have tried to manipulate temperature data of the past few decades to make it agree with model predictions,[11] just as they tried to eliminate the Medieval Warm Period,[12] which could not have existed if the Earth’s temperature were only controlled by atmospheric CO2 levels. Ice cores show little change in CO2 levels during the Medieval Warm period, about 1,000 years ago,[13] or during the subsequent Little Ice age that ended about 200 years ago.

Figure 1: Chart
Figure 1. A comparison of the surface warming predicted by climate models with observed warming.
Atmospheric Temperator Chart
Figure 2. A comparison of lower atmospheric temperatures, measured with balloons and satellites, with climate model predictions. The climate models, on which economic models and government policies are predicated, predict much more warming than has been observed.

The atmospheric level of CO2 is only one of many factors affecting the Earth’s climate, and definitely not the most important one. Where were the coal power plants which drove the enormous temperature swings of the ice ages, when New York City was under 1,000 feet of ice?[14] Whatever has caused the recurrent ice ages and interglacial periods of the past million years or so, it was not human generation of CO2. In fact, many other factors besides CO2 influence climate.

Image of Volcano Erupting. Mt. Pinatubo
Mt. Pinatubo Eruption, Phillipines, 1991

The oceans, which have about a thousand times more heat capacity than the atmosphere, can have a huge effect on the atmospheric temperature. During El Niño years,[15] much of the Western-Pacific pool of deep, warm water surges back to the coasts of the American continents, bringing much more warm water to the surface and heating the troposphere by around 1°C. The large warmings of the surface and lower atmosphere by El Niños can be seen in Figure 3, below. Longer-term warmings and coolings of the Earth are produced by other quasi-cyclic changes of the oceans, for example, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation,[16] the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation,[17] and others.

As one can see from Figure 3,[18] large volcanic eruptions can heat the stratosphere by 1°C or more due to the absorption of sunlight by sulfate aerosols. The eruptions also cool the surface and the lower troposphere since the sunlight that would normally reach the surface is scattered and absorbed in stratosphere.

Figure 3, Chart
Figure 3. Temperature anomalies observed by satellites from the year 1979 to the present. The three bottom curves for the lower, middle, and upper troposphere show pronounced warming for the large El Niño events of 1998, 2010, and 2016.[19] The top curve for the lower stratosphere shows the large stratospheric warmings caused by the eruption of the volcanoes El Chichón in 1982[20] and Mt. Pinatubo in 1991.[21] The satellite data for Figure 3 consist of five-year averages of data like this for the middle troposphere.

It makes absolutely no sense for the world to adopt policies that will cost trillions of dollars on the basis of models with performances as bad as those of Figures 1 and 2.

2. Current CO2 levels are far below those that prevailed over most of geological history and those to which plants are best adapted. What is wrong with restoring more nearly optimum levels of CO2 to the Earth’s atmosphere?

Figure 4, Chart.
Figure 4. The ratio, RCO2, of past atmospheric CO2 concentrations to average values (about 300 ppm) for the past few hundred million years. This particular proxy record comes from analyzing the fraction of the rare stable isotope 13C to the dominant isotope 12C in carbonate sediments and paleosols. Other proxies give qualitatively similar results.[22]

Both human society and life in general are much more resilient to climate change than alarmists would have you believe. As one can see in Figure 4, which shows estimated CO2 levels over the past 550 million years, during the current the Phanerozoic Eon (from the Cambrian period to the present) CO2 levels are at record lows. Over most of the geological history of the Earth, CO2 levels have been much higher than now. There were no tipping points: ocean acidification was not a problem; corals flourished,[23] leaving extensive fossil reefs for us to study today; and evolution continued its steady course on land and in the oceans, punctuated by real catastrophes, including giant meteor strikes,[24] massive volcanic eruptions leading to vast areas of flood basalts,[25] etc. These events probably released CO2, CH4, SO2, and other gases that significantly affected the oceans and atmosphere, but the catastrophes were not directly caused by greenhouse gases.

The only undisputed effect of more atmospheric CO2 over the past century has been a pronounced greening of the earth, as shown in Figures 5 and 6, below (reproduced from Figures 17 and 15, respectively, of my Statement):

Color encoded world map
Figure 5. The analysis of satellite observations by Dr. Randall J. Donohue and co-workers[26] shows a clear greening of the earth from the modest increase of CO2 concentrations from about 340 ppm to 400 ppm from the year 1982 to 2010. The greening is most pronounced in arid areas where increased CO2 levels diminish the water requirement of plants.[27]
Time lapse photo of seed sprouting
Figure 6. The response of seedlings of velvetleaf (Abutilon theophrasti), a C3 plant, to various CO2 levels. Velvetleaf can barely survive at the CO2 level of 150 ppm, which are approached at glacial maxima, when much of the CO2 has been absorbed by the cool oceans.[28]

3. It is immoral to deprive most of mankind of the benefits of affordable, reliable energy from fossil fuels on the basis of computer models that do not work.

Calls for “sustainable energy” are mostly “virtue-signaling” by over-privileged elites, cynical profiteers, crony-capitalist purveyors of electric cars, windmills, solar cells, etc., well-funded charitable organizations with highly paid leaders who promise to save the planet, subsidized producers of biofuels,[29] sincere but gullible ordinary citizens, etc. — a perfect storm of motives to support a silly and harmful movement to solve a non-existent problem.

Solar Panels
“It turns my stomach to see once-green fields near my home in Princeton, New Jersey, covered with black solar panels, stretching as far as the eye can see.”—William Happer, PhD

Few of the proposed actions will help the environment, and in many cases they will damage it. It turns my stomach to see once-green fields near my home in Princeton, New Jersey, covered with black solar panels, stretching as far as the eye can see, or to see windmills strung along once-lovely ridgelines, with the remains of slaughtered bats and birds beneath them.

As illustrated in Figure 7, the poor residents[29] of less-developed parts of the world are paying a heavy price to let privileged saviors of the planet feel superior to the less-well-off, and less-hypocritical, “baskets of deplorables.” Philosopher-kings[30] demand that most of mankind forgo the benefits of inexpensive, reliable fossil fuels. The message of these elites to the lesser members of the human race reminds me of Dickens’s quatrain:[31]

O let us love our occupations,
Bless the squire and his relations
Live upon our daily rations
And always know our proper stations.

Screen capture of news stories
Figure 7. The poor of third-word countries and of our own country pay a heavy price so preening, well-off Europeans and North Americans can save the world with “sustainable” biofuels.[32]

Closing remarks

Book CoverThe frenzy over “climate change,” supposedly driven by increasing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, is similar to other aberrations of human affairs, described so ably by Charles Mackay in his sobering book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.[33] The American financier, Bernard Baruch, described Mackay’s book as the second-biggest influence on his life, after that of his father. Baruch insisted that all who worked with him should read it.[34]

Huge amounts of money have been spent over the past few decades to convince the people of the world that CO2 is a dangerous pollutant. It is, in fact, a benefit.

I could not describe the high priests of the new climate-change religion and their promotion of “sustainability” better than did Jonathan Swift in the third part of his classic novel Gulliver’s Travels,[35] when he wrote about the fictional airborne island of Laputa[36] (shown in Figure 8) and its scholars:

In these colleges the professors contrive new rules and methods of agriculture and building, and new instruments, and tools for all trades and manufactures; whereby, as they undertake, one man shall do the work of ten; a palace may be built in a week, of materials so durable as to last forever without repairing. All the fruits of the earth shall come to maturity at whatever season we think fit to choose, and increase a hundred fold more than they do at present; with innumerable other happy proposals. The only inconvenience is that none of these projects are yet brought to perfection: and in the meantime the whole country lies miserably waste, the houses in ruins, and the people without food or clothes. By all of which, instead of being discouraged, they are fifty times more violently bent upon prosecuting their schemes, driven equally on by hope and despair. . . .[37]

Figure 8. The scholars of the floating island of Laputa had much in common with many promoters of global-­warming alarmism.[38]

Join the Dialogue!

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Sources and References

1. John C. Fyfe, Nathan P. Gillett, and Francis W. Zwiers, “Overestimated global warming over the past 20 years [PDF],” Nature Climate Change, 2013, 3: 767–769.

2. Ronnie Gilbert and Lee Hays, “You Old Fool,” performed by The Weavers.

3. Jim Steele, “How NOAA and Bad Modeling Invented an ‘Ocean Acidification’ Icon: Part 1 – Sea Butterflies” (Watts Up With That website, 2017).

4. Kapesa Lokho and Kishor Kumar, “Fossil pteropods (Thecosomata, holoplanktonic Mollusca) from the Eocene of Assam-Arakan Basin, north-eastern India,” Current Science (India), 2008, 94: 647–652.

5. Paul N. Pearson and Martin R. Palmer, “Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations over the past 60 million years [PDF], ” Nature, 2000, 406: 695–699.

6. New Release, “LIGO Catches its Third Gravitational Wave!” (CalTech’s LIGO [Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory] website, 2017).

7. David H. Douglass, John R. Christy, Benjamin D. Pearson, and S. Fred Singer, “A comparison of tropical temperature trends with model predictions,” International Journal of Climatology, 2008, 28: 1693–1701.

8. “Joseph and Jacques Michel Étienne Montgolfier Facts” (Your Dictionary website, 2010).

9. John D. Cook, “How to fit an elephant” (John D. Cook website, 2011).

10. Testimony of John R. Christy [PDF], February 2, 2016, U.S. House Committee on Science, Space & Technology.

11. Thomas R. Karl, et al., “Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus,” Science, 2015, 348: 1469–1472.

12. Ross McKitrick, “What is the ‘Hockey Stick’ Debate About? [PDF],” Invited Presentation to APEC [Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation] Study Group, Canberra, Australia, 2005.

13. D.M. Etheridge, et al., “Historical CO2 Records from the Law Dome DE08, DE08-2, and DSS Ice Cores” (Click on “Graphics” and see under “DE08, DE08-2, and DSS records”) (CDIAC [Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center], Oak Ridge National Laboratory website, 1998).

14. “Hot Rocks: A Geological History of New York City Parks” (NYC Parks website, no date).

15. Kristin Myers, “What Are El Niño and La Niña — and Why Should You Care?” (Concern USA website, 2016).

16. “Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO)” (NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] National Climate Data Center website, no date).

17. “Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation (AMO)” (NCAR [National Center for Atmospheric Research] Climate Data Guide website, 2017).

18. “Global Temperatures” (Climate4you website, 2017).

19. “Different Altitude Global Monthly Temperatures Since 1979” (Climate4you website, 2017).

20. Erik Klemetti, “Looking Back at the 1982 Eruption of El Chichón in Mexico” (Wired website, March 28, 2012).

21. “Remembering Mt. Pinatubo 25 Years Ago: Mitigating a Crisis” (USGS [United States Geological Survey] website, 2016).

22. Robert A. Berner and Zavareth Kothavala, “GEOCARB III: A revised model of atmospheric CO2 over Phanerozoic time [PFD],” American Journal of Science, 2001, 301: 182–204.

23. “Corals: Fossil Record” (everblue94 website, no date).

24. “K-T Extinction” (Encyclopædia Britannica website, 2017).

25. Steve Self and Mike Rampino, “Flood basalts, mantle plumes and mass extinctions” (The Geological Society [UK] website, 2012).

26. Randall J. Donohue, et al., “Impact of CO2 fertilization on maximum foliage cover across the globe’s warm, arid environments,” Geophysical Research Letters, 2013, 40: 3031–3035.

27. This figure was attached to an e-mail from Randall J. Donohue to William Happer, dated 4/27/2015, in which Dr. Donohue states:

“I do recognize this image — it is one of mine. There’s no publication from which it comes. Instead, I produced it for an AGU media release that accompanied our GRL paper. Unfortunately, I discovered after the media release that I had given AGU the 1982 to 2006 trend map, not the 1982 to 2010 one as stated in the caption. So please find attached the proper “1982 to 2010 GIMMS3g-derived relative trend in fractional cover” image. Please feel free to use this map, and if you could state the source as R.J. Donohue/CSIRO, that would be excellent.” [emphasis added]

[Please note that “AGU” stands for American Geophysical Union; “GIMMS3g” stands for Global Inventory Modeling and Mapping System — Third Generation; “CSIRO” stands for the Australia-based Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization; and “our GRL paper” refers to the paper cited in the preceding Note 26 — eds.]

28. L.M. Gerhart and J.K. Ward, “Plant responses to low [CO2] of the past,” New Phytologist, 2010, 188: 674–695.

29. Timothy A. Wise, “The Cost to Developing Countries of U.S. Corn Ethanol Expansion,” Working Paper No. 12-02 [PDF] (Tufts University, Global Development and Environment Institute, 2012).

30. Mark Kingwell, “Why every government should keep an empty seat for a philosopher king” (The Guardian website, May 10, 2012).

31. Charles Dickens, The Chimes (1844) (The Circumlocution Office website, 2017).

32. Timothy A. Wise, “The Cost to Developing Countries of U.S. Corn Ethanol Expansion,” ActionAid Report [PDF] (Tufts University, Global Development and Environment Institute, 2012).

33. Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds [PDF]. London: Richard Bentley, 1841.

34. “Who were Bernard Baruch’s greatest influencers?” (Investopedia website, March 27, 2015).

35. [Jonathan Swift], Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships. London: Benjamin Motte, 1726.

36. “LAPUTA (The third voyage of Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels)” (novhybria website, October 22. 2012).

37. Jonathan Swift, Chapter IV of “A Voyage to Laputa . . . and Japan” (Part III of Gulliver’s Travels).

38. This image of Laputa is widely available on the Internet, for example, on Pinterest. [We assume it is a plate from one of the many nineteenth- and twentieth-century illustrated editions of Gulliver’s Travels, but we have been unable to determine which one — eds.]

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