Sunspots or Blindspots? Just Another Poor Excuse for Climate Denial

articoscilJust last week we blogged about the climate of denial – how the media, politicians and executives with a vested interest in our energy status-quo have effectively confused and even halted the debate on climate change, diverting our society and our economy from moving toward the solutions we need.

So perhaps it’s not that remarkable there are some who still question whether the Earth’s climate is changing. They might point to an extreme cold spell and scoff that “global warming” couldn’t be real when it’s that cold in the Southeast. Nevertheless, data from a range of sources, from government analysis to academic research, indicate a distinct warming trend, such as can be observed in this graph of four different data sets.  Just as alarming are recent satellite data (right) that show temperature anomalies (colder than normal, warmer than normal) likely due to a negative Arctic Oscillation causing cold air to shift from the Arctic allowing warmer air to move northwards.

Another issue some question is whether humans are burning enough carbon dioxide (CO2) releasing fossil fuels to actually ‘force’ (cause) this observed warming. This recent peer-reviewed study indicates that CO2 levels are higher than they’ve been for at least 15 million years, disrupting the flux of the Earth’s carbon release and sink mechanisms. A brand new study from Penn State offers evidence that high CO2 levels 55 million years ago – levels that were one-tenth the rate of fossil-fuel combustion occurring today – lead to a period of elevated global temperatures and widespread extinctions. These and other studies present solid evidence that human activities are impacting global temperatures beyond the range of normal climatic variability.

However, a recent article in the LA Times may start skeptics buzzing again as the lead declares we could be entering a “stretch of reduced solar activity… and a previous period coincided with the so-called Little Ice Age.” It’s not until the final paragraph  where you learn the researchers note there is not enough evidence to understand what, if any, effect fewer sunspots could have on our climate.

solar_vs_temp_500The previous ‘prolonged quiet period’ of sunspot activity, known as the Maunder Minimum after the astronomer who observed the trend, did in fact coincide with 75 years of lower-than-average temperatures in Europe and other parts of the globe. However, evidence that links fewer observed sunspots with those lower temperatures is limited.

Could a new period of decreased solar activity – specifically sunspots – result in lower Earth temperatures? Anything’s possible and future observations may provide conclusive answers. However, for 35 years the sun has shown a slight cooling trend even as global temperatures have steadily risen – graphically depicted by the red and blue lines moving away from each other. But more importantly, none of this new research or any of these proposed theories challenge or undermine the fact that we are still pumping millions of tons of heat-trapping emissions into our atmosphere each day. This pollution is beginning to impact the oceans and the land in exactly the ways that scientists have long-projected: warming temperatures, intense storms, severe flooding, pro-longed droughts and other climatic shifts.

Too many skeptics base their denial of climate change not on science, but on their fear that a paradigm shift of human behavior is necessary to slow the changing climate. A new report from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication gives me real hope that (1) people believe change may not be as difficult as some suggest and (2) that the vast majority of the public are ready to address climate change. “Public Support for Climate & Energy Policies in May 2011” found that 71% of those surveyed believe that global warming should be a priority for our country and an overwhelming majority (91%) support a transition away from fossil fuels to the clean, renewable alternatives and efficiency measures we already have at our disposal. If the majority of the public agrees that we can make this change, and the majority of climate scientists agree that burning fossil fuels is contributing to a changing climate, then there are truly no more excuses for delay. Use SACE’s AdvoKit to speak out to the media, your neighbors and your elected leaders and show that you stand with the 91% polled who think its time for a change.

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And people believe this garbage?
The laws of physics say that you can NOT create energy. You have to transfer it in from somwhere, like the sun, something Man can NOT do.
So just how does more CO2 create energy and warming? How does IPCC justify that “more GHGs/CO2 means more warming” Do you think that maybe it is the addition of the energy photon to the greenhouse gases, that causes more warming in the greenhouse effect, rather than the addition of more GHGs to the already excess number in the ocean?
Do you think maybe that Climate Scientists are total ignoramuses who do not even recognize the laws of physics and Mother Nature?

Comment by John Dodds on June 27, 2011 1:34 pm

Jennifer, It turns out sunspots are the #2 climate denial argument.

@JohnDodds Not sure whether you are trying to be ironic or serious with the comment, but if you have a genuine question about the difference between energy and temperature, check out this graphic … a good analogy could be the difference between acceleration and speed.

Comment by John D. Wilson on June 27, 2011 2:01 pm

I belive in climate change.
Even if I am wrong, surely it would be prudent to err on the side of caution for the sake of the future of this planet as a pleasant habitable place for our children. Carbon Dioxide is not the only product of fossil fuel burning. Please consider Carbon Monoxide, and Sulphur, particularly Sulphur, which ends up as acid rain – sulphuric acid.
Just look at the news footage from places like China where in some cities the sun is reduced to a dull glow in the sky by the pollution from industry, pollution which is destroying the respiratory system of all who breath it.

Comment by David Hall on June 27, 2011 4:41 pm

@John Dodd – You’re right, we cannot create more energy. I’m unsure where you get the idea that climatologists are saying more energy is created – in fact, the “greenhouse effect” is a very good description and analogy of climate change. Human-created greenhouses (for growing plants, especially in colder places) don’t generate more energy, they trap it. It’s also like how your car is hotter inside on a hot day. It’s not that your car generated extra energy, it’s that it prevented energy from leaving the enclosed system. Carbon dioxide acts as an extra layer on the planet and traps the energy and prevents it from dissipating naturally.

Comment by Simon Mahan on June 27, 2011 9:26 pm

Heh! the American Astronomical Society is no ‘Climate Denier’ nor any of the other rude and crude comments that you are throwing around!

This is peer reviewed stuff! This is solid Science! These Guys are not paid by Big Oil or by the IPCC! They are worth listening too!

Comment by Ken Calvert on June 28, 2011 4:31 am

@Ken Calvert:

I’m glad you think Dr. Frank Hill is “worth listening to.” Here’s what Dr. Hill (not the American Astronomical Society) said about the claim that a sunspot minimum would lead to a mini-ice age:

In response to news inquiries and stories, Dr. Frank Hill issued a follow-up statement:

“We are NOT predicting a mini-ice age. We are predicting the behavior of the solar cycle. In my opinion, it is a huge leap from that to an abrupt global cooling, since the connections between solar activity and climate are still very poorly understood. My understanding is that current calculations suggest only a 0.3 degree C decrease from a Maunder-like minimum, too small for an ice age. It is unfortunate that the global warming/cooling studies have become so politically polarizing.”

And it isn’t really fair to compare being funded by the IPCC with “Big Oil.” Its budget is $5-6 million per year. The IPCC employs about 10 people, fewer than the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Comment by John D. Wilson on June 28, 2011 9:02 am

Irony update:

Southern Company has funded studies to link solar variability with climate trends.

But, Southern Company hasn’t included this study on its map of “Climate Change Action.”

Comment by John D. Wilson on June 29, 2011 3:59 pm

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