Troubling Lack of Science Behind Global Warming Claims

by William Yeatman on March 18, 2003

in Science

One February 27, Christopher Essex, a professor in the Department of Applied Mathematics at the University of Western Ontario, and Ross McKitrick, an associate professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Guelph, gave a Cooler Heads Coalition congressional staff and media briefing on their new book, Taken By Storm: The Troubled Science, Policy and Politics of Global Warming.

Essex, who studies the underlying mathematics, physics and computation of complex dynamical processes, raised some very fundamental scientific issues with regard to the science of global warming. Take, for instance, the “average global temperature,” which is a mainstay of the debate. Such a thing doesnt exist, according to Essex. You cant add up temperature and take its average like you can with physical quantities such as energy, length, and so on.

“Thermodynamic variables are categorized as extensive or intensive,” said Essex. “Extensive variables occur in amounts. Intensive variables [such as temperature] refer to conditions of a system, defined continuously throughout its extent.” For example, one could add the temperature of a cup of ice water to the temperature of a cup of hot coffee, but what does that number mean? It doesnt mean anything because there is no such thing as total temperature. Dividing that number by two to get the average doesnt mean anything either. Yet that is exactly what occurs when the average global temperature is computed.

Essex also pointed out that the internal energy of a system can change without changing the temperature and the temperature can change while the internal energy of the system remains the same. “This disconnect happens routinely in the natural world around us all the time,” said Essex. “Ultimately this has to be so because temperature and energy belong to two fundamentally different classes of thermodynamic variables.”

Global warming enthusiasts want us to believe that average temperature can tell us something about what is going on in the climate, but it is just a number with no physical content. To add insult to injury, Essex explained that there are literally an infinite number of averaging rules that could be used, some of which will show “warming” and others that will show “cooling,” but the “physics doesnt say which one to use.”

Essex also explained that the earths so-called greenhouse effect does not work like a greenhouse. “Incoming solar radiation adds energy to the Earths surface,” he said. To restore radiative balance the energy must be transported back to space in roughly the same amounts that it arrived in. The energy is transported via two processes infrared radiation (heat transfer) and fluid dynamics (turbulence).

A real greenhouse works by preventing fluid motions, such as the wind, by enclosing an area with plastic or glass. To restore balance, infrared radiation must increase, thereby causing the temperature to rise. Predicting the resulting temperature increase is a relatively straightforward process.

But the “greenhouse effect” works differently. Greenhouse gases slow down outgoing infrared radiation, which causes the fluid dynamics to adjust. But it cannot be predicted what will happen because the equations which govern fluid dynamics cannot be solved! Scientists cannot even predict the flow of water through a pipe, let alone the vastly more complex fluid dynamics of the climate system. “No one can compute from first principles what the climate will do,” said Essex. “It may warm, or cool, or nothing at all!” Saying that the greenhouse effect works the same way as a greenhouse, which is a solvable problem, creates certainty where none exists, said Essex.

Surely scientists are aware of the issues that Essex brings up (and several other equally devastating points that arent discussed here). If so, then how have we come to a place where the media and politicians repeatedly state that there is a scientific consensus that the planet is warming up, it is caused by man, and the effects will be catastrophic? McKitrick offered a very convincing explanation. He discussed several relevant groups, but well focus on politicians and what McKitrick calls “Official Science.”

Politicians need big issues around which they can form winning coalitions. Global warming is a good issue because, “It is so complex and baffling the public still has little clue what its really about. Its global, so you get to have your meetings in exotic locations. Policy initiatives could sound like heroic measures to save the planet, but on the other hand the solutions are potentially very costly. So you need a high degree of scientific support if you are going to move on it. Theres a premium on certainty.”

This is where Official Science comes in. Official Science is made up of staffs of scientific bureaucracies, editors of prominent magazines, directors of international panels, and so on. These members of Official Science arent appointed by scientists to speak on their behalf, but are appointed by governments. They have the impossible job of striking “a compromise between the need for certainty in policymaking and the aversion to claims of certainty in regular science.” What happens is that science ends up serving a political agenda rather than a scientific one. “If things were as they should be, leaders would want a treaty because they observe that scientists are in agreement. What happens instead is that Official Science orchestrates agreement because leaders want to make a treaty.” The presentation will soon be available at Taken By Storm may be ordered at


On March 13, Hans Blix, the U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq was interviewed on MTV about his thoughts regarding war with Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. During the interview he stated that, “On big issues like war in Iraq, but in many other issues, they simply must be multilateral. Theres no other way around. You have the instances like the global warming convention, the Kyoto protocol, when the U.S. went its own way. I regret it. To me the question of the environment is more ominous than that of peace and war. We will have regional conflicts and use of force, but world conflicts I do not believe will happen any longer. But the environment, that is a creeping danger. Im more worried about global warming than I am of any major military conflict.” Presumably, the risks of war, weapons of mass destruction, and terrorist acts such as 9/11, pale in comparison to the threat of global warming.

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