The latest attempt to deny climate science

On Thursday, June 20th, 2013 in Island Tides

In case you missed it, earlier this month an article appeared in a little known physics journal, rated by scientists as of ‘low influence,’ the International Journal of Modern Physics B. The article claimed that all the science on anthropogenic climate change was wrong—that global warming was being driven by CFCs, not burning fossil fuels.

The author, University of Waterloo physics professor Qing-Bin Lu, concluded:

‘The observed data show that CFCs combining with cosmic rays most likely caused both the Antarctic ozone hole and global warming … The total amount of CFCs, ozonedepleting molecules that are well-known greenhouse gases, has decreased around 2000. Correspondingly, the global surface temperature has also dropped.’

Predictably, Lu immediately became the darling of the climate denier media. He is a young associate professor at Waterloo, with his undergraduate and masters degrees from China and his PhD from Newcastle in Australia. He is not part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

On the basis of this one paper, The Province argued that ‘panicky governments … should stop letting their brains be fried by professional alarmists … and keep a cool head.’

Remember CFCs

Of course, it has been known since well before we negotiated the Montreal Protocol in 1987 that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) act as both ozone depleters and greenhouse gases, as do weaker ozone depleters used to replace CFCs, the HCFCs. Not all ozone depleters are greenhouse gases, and not all greenhouse gases are ozone depleters, but there is certainly a constellation of overlap.

The Montreal Protocol, the architecture of which was virtually exactly copied in the Kyoto Protocol, has been successful in bringing down production and consumption of ozone depleters. That CFCs and HCFCs are warming gases and are being reduced is not in dispute. But what Dr Lu appears to have done was to take those elements we know are true and force them to fit his predetermined theory. Scientists from around the world have taken a critical look at his paper and find nothing there but nonsense.

Here is his basic line of argument: to the extent that there were warming trends before the advent of CFCs, the warming was due to solar activity. Along came CFCs/HFCs (with action by cosmic rays) and look at how the temperature increases, and now that there are fewer CFCs the warming trends are in decline.

There are a few problems with this thesis.

  1. numerous studies have demonstrated that the level of warming from 1850-1970 reflected the build up of GHG, and that removing natural forcing, the trend lines match GHG projections, and thus are not explicable due to solar activity. Models simply cannot match the experienced warming if anthropogenic forcing is left out of the models;
  2. the attribution of warming to cosmic rays has been disproved, and
  3. the rate of warming is not in decline as CFCs decline.

The modus operandi of Dr Lu is known as ‘curve forcing.’ This is defined by the excellent website ‘Skeptical Science’ as ‘the practice of scaling several variables without any sort of realistic physical constraint until the model closely matches the observational data, and then declaring that you’ve proven that those variables caused the changes in the observations.’ It is essentially tautological. ‘Skeptical Science’ says it is like rigging a card game and then bragging that you are a great card player when you win the game.

It turns out Dr Lu’s previous papers attempting to disprove carbon dioxide as the primary cause of observed warming and pin it on CFCs and cosmic rays (papers in 2009 and 2010) already gave rise to peer-reviewed papers that rejected his approach. In ‘Do cosmic-ray-driven electroninduced reactions impact stratospheric ozone depletion and global climate change?’ (Atmospheric Environment 45 (2011) 3508-3514) German scientists Groob and Muller concluded:

‘The methods of analysing ozone and global temperature data used by Lu, which are based solely on correlations of parameters, are not conclusive to explain the complex processes both of ozone depletion and surface temperature development.’

That same article references a number of other articles that have also rebutted Lu’s claims that CFCs exert more of a warming effect than the more voluminous carbon dioxide emissions.

Tricky for Lu to explain how one group of warming gases (CFCs/HCFCs in relatively smaller volumes) exert warming when other GHG in gigantic quantities (carbon dioxide) do not. To do so, he relies on a theory that atmospheric capacity for any more CO2 uptake is ‘saturated.’ This particular theory was rebutted and put to bed in 1956 by Dr G N Plass and others (Am. Sci 44 in 1956, and again in Am. Sci98 in 2010), and no one since has disproved their work.

In fact, the scientific community, with papers from researchers all around the world, has thoroughly examined the relative warming powers of CFCs and GHG and concluded that CFCs have a warming potential about 1/5th that of GHG. The more I read about Lu’s persistence in challenging multiple areas of atmospheric science the more I wonder why the University of Waterloo is letting him teach physics at all.

Dr Lu has not done any work that would call into doubt the huge body of work that has already established the relative impact of solar activity over time. Furthermore, he claims that global warming has declined, when in fact it is increasing decade over decade. And he bases all his temperature readings on land-based measurements, completely ignoring the fact that the oceans have been warming rapidly. A quite striking statement of the amount of increased ocean warming comes from Skeptical Science :

‘Over the past decade, ocean and overall global heating have continued to rise rapidly, accumulating the equivalent of about 4 Hiroshima atomic bomb detonations per second.’ This is also ignored by Professor Lu. Interestingly, his paper is well-timed in anticipation of the June 8th announcement by President Obama and President Xi of the People’s Republic of China that a shared programme to destroy HCFCs has been launched. Climate is stressed in the announcement from the White House and Peoples Republic of China : ‘The transitions out of CFCs and HCFCs provide major ozone layer protection benefits, but the unintended consequence is the rapid current and projected future growth of climate-damaging HFCs.’

Perhaps this is nothing more than coincidence.

Newly elected Green MLA and renowned climate scientist, Dr Andrew Weaver, summed up the attitude of many scientists who have responded to the most recent salvo from Prof Lu. ‘It’s unbelievable,’ says Weaver. That’s not hyperbole. It’s simply the case that no one with a background in CFCs, cosmic rays, solar energy, terrestrial or oceanic temperature changes, or carbon dioxide loadings in the atmosphere can believe Professor Lu’s theories.

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