THE ‘greenhouse effect’ has been with us for so long that it is taken as ‘settled’ science in most quarters. However, as a new paper shows, there is much still to debate.
The author, William Kininmonth, is no bedroom blogger. As a former head of Australia’s National Climate Centre, he deserves careful and respectful attention.
Kininmonth’s suggestion is that the approach of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), based on a concept of radiation forcing at the top of the atmosphere, is logically unsound and ignores important details about what happens at the Earth’s surface. In particular, he notes that there are huge flows of energy – vastly bigger than the effect of greenhouse gases – from the warm tropical oceans to the atmosphere, whence it is transported poleward by the winds, warming the northern latitudes.
While the tropical oceans have warmed, the amount of extra heat there can’t possibly be caused by carbon dioxide; it can only be the result of changes in ocean currents. So recent global warming must be mostly a natural fluctuation, and not anthropogenic.
Once this is understood, many other things become clear. For example, the rapid warming at the poles and across northern latitudes is explained by the IPCC as being the result of a somewhat mysterious ‘polar amplification’ process. This theory is difficult to align with the observation that the warming is fastest in winter. The observed warming squares much better with the idea of additional heat flow from the tropical oceans, mixed through the atmosphere by convection, and transported by the seasonally varying winds to warm the Arctic region further.
In the aftermath of Climategate, the 2009 publication of a stash of emails between a clique of climate scientists, one exchange which got a certain amount of attention was focused on the specific issue of a natural or anthropogenic origin for recent temperature changes. The author asked: ‘What if climate change appears to be just mainly a multidecadal natural fluctuation? They’ll kill us probably.’
If Kininmonth is correct, people will certainly be angry. And understandably so.