Don’t you just hate it when empirical results get in the way of a cherished
article of faith theory? Not only have none of the predictions of doom made by global warming alarmists come to pass, but now experimental results are lending strength to an alternate theory of global warming and cooling:
It sounds like a conspiracy theory: ‘cosmic rays’ from deep space might be creating clouds in Earth’s atmosphere and changing the climate. Yet an experiment at CERN, Europe’s high-energy physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, is finding tentative evidence for just that.
The findings, published today in Nature, are preliminary, but they are stoking a long-running argument over the role of radiation from distant stars in altering the climate.
To find out, Kirkby and his team are bringing the atmosphere down to Earth in an experiment called Cosmics Leaving Outdoor Droplets (CLOUD). The team fills a custom-built chamber with ultrapure air and chemicals believed to seed clouds: water vapour, sulphur dioxide, ozone and ammonia. They then bombard the chamber with protons from the same accelerator that feeds the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful particle smasher. As the synthetic cosmic rays stream in, the group carefully samples the artificial atmosphere to see what effect the rays are having.
Early results seem to indicate that cosmic rays do cause a change. The high-energy protons seemed to enhance the production of nanometre-sized particles from the gaseous atmosphere by more than a factor of ten.
To be fair, physicist Kirkby then points out that the generated particles are too small for clouds to form around, though he concedes that this experiment is an “important first step” in understanding how cosmic rays might be involved in the creation of clouds.
The significance of this experiment is that it seems to bear directly on the debate over whether CO2 or solar activity is most responsible for global warming and cooling, and thus climate change.
In short, it’s been known for over a century that radiation from outer space, “cosmic rays,” bombard the Earth, and that these rays are affected by the “wind” put out by the sun when it is active, the visible sign of which is an increase in sunspots. When the solar wind is strong, fewer cosmic rays reach the Earth. When it is weak, the number of rays hitting us increases.
Danish physicist Henrik Svensmark theorized that cosmic rays play a role in the formation of clouds, which in turn act as regulators of the Earth’s heat: more clouds means a cooler world, fewer lead to warming. Thus, the theory goes, periods of weak solar activity lead to more cosmic rays, which creates more clouds and a cooling planet. And, of course, the reverse would be true of periods of strong solar activity. Svensmark and others claimed that this would explain the apparent correlation between a warming and cooling Earth and the sunspot cycle. (See, for example, the Little Ice Age and the Maunder Minimum).
But let’s be careful. We are basically now in the exact same place with Svensmark that we are with CO2 greenhouse warming. We know the relevant effects exist in a lab, and are fairly certain they exist in nature, but we are uncertain how sensitive the actual climate is to these effects. We skeptics criticize alarmists for exaggerating feedbacks and real-world sensitivities to CO2. We should avoid the same mistake.
…I find Svensmark’s thesis much more plausible, as it does something alarmist theories have not: account for the past. Advocates of man-caused global warming either deny (or hide) or hand-wave away the various warming and cooling periods in the past, unable to plausibly explain how those occurred without the presence of CO2 dumped into the atmosphere by Man.
The cosmic-ray theory, on the other hand, seems to correlate nicely not only with the past, but with the observed present in which there has been both a decline in solar activity and no statistically significant warming since 1995.
At the very least, this suggests that the science, no matter what Al Gore says, is far from settled and that we should avoid implementing sweeping policies until we know much, much more.
By which time, I suspect, we’ll recognize them for the poisonous cures to a problem that does not exist that they are and can toss them onto the intellectual trash heap with the “flat earth” theories and Piltdown Man.
LINKS: Calder’s Updates has more details. So does The Global Warming Policy Foundation. Follow-up reactions from WUWT. The Telegraph’s James Delingpole goes to town on this development, reminding us that the scientific establishment never wanted this experiment to take place. There’s good scientific practice for you. Meanwhile, this and other recent developments casting doubt on anthropogenic global warming has been hard on the church’s High Priest, Al Gore. From an obscenity-filled tirade to suggesting we need to eat less meat to save the planet to equating skeptics with racists, he’s publicly losing it.
(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)