Sunday, March 27, 2011

Physicist Richard Muller on Climate Change

Richard Muller, Prof. of Physics at UC Berkeley, who teaches the famous “Physics for Future Presidents,” is leading an independent group of researchers at Berkeley, the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study, to review and analyze climate change data. How “independent” is questionable, considering his group is receiving funding from the Charles G. Koch Foundation. His group is analyzing global temperature data and will present its findings at the end of this year. The group is computing all global temperature data, not a subset, and will make this data available on the web for anyone to view and analyze.

Muller contends that IPCC global temperature data is generally reliable, and its overall conclusions are correct: the average global temperature is rising and a continued rising temperature could have devastating consequences for human life. He states that the global average temperature increased 2 degrees Celsius since the mid 1800s, and has increased an additional 1 degree Celsius since 1957; furthermore, the one degree rise since 1957 is caused in part by human activity.

Mulller contends that many of the assertions in the 2007 IPCC report on climate change is anecdotal or conjecture—except for the temperature data. He claims that the only reliable indicator of global warming is global temperature data. The data and conclusions that are questionable are claims that there has been an increase in glacial melt (such as the Himalayan glaciers), Arctic and Antarctic polar melt, melt of permafrost in Alaska, forest fires, hurricanes (both frequency and severity), and tornadoes. He asserts these are not reliable indicators of global warming. Muller does not mention anything about increased rainfall or extreme rain events. However, more significantly, he argues that increased warming has caused increased evaporation of moisture from the earth’s surface and increased vapour in the atmosphere, which may—or may not—cause increased cloud cover. The greatest uncertainty with regard to predicting climate change is that it cannot be determined as yet whether global warming caused by increased C02 will or will not cause increased cloud cover. Muller asserts that if in fact cloud cover is increased by 2 percent, there will be no global warming, and he says that the IPCC report also states that.

Muller’s presentation shows that all the growth in emissions from this point on will be generated by developing nations, particularly China and India, and primarily because of coal-burning power plants. He states without reservation that if developing nations are allowed to continue their current rate of growth of carbon emissions that global warming will happen and that the effects will be disastrous.

Muller states that the IPCC Report and other climate change studies “cherry pick” the data they want to present and suppress other data. However, if you watch the video to the end of the question period, you will hear Muller admit that he failed to present graphs showing that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased 36% and that the increase is “due to humans.”

Most tellingly, he states that climate change remedies must be “profitable to be sustainable.” He avoids the challenge by an audience member to define what “profitable” is or why climate measures must be profitable. He fails to qualify that “profitability” is a political objective, not an objective of scientific research.

Despite my reservations about Muller's nod to capitalism (profitability) and funding by the Koch Foundation, I believe that Muller's critique of climate change science is a valuable perspective. Furthermore, the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study's analysis of global temperature data could be an important contribution to the science.

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