Comments by Bob Foster1 on the Kyoto Protocol’s bones of contention

 21 August 2001


Global warming as a result of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions is the most pressing environmental issue facing the world today; and the Kyoto Protocol has but a single aim: protection of the environment .

A two-page spread in the International Herald Tribune of 21 June 2001, entitled "Business & the Rio Decade: the energy challenge", was timed to coincide with the continuation in Bonn of the COP6 conference, suspended at The Hague last November without progress on resolution of the Protocol’s terms. The spread was sponsored by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, with the logos of energy giants such as Shell, Sinopec, Tokyo Electric Power Company, and Norske Hydro, prominent.

WBCSD’s lead article began:

For the past century, the world economy has been largely dependent on fossil fuels as its main source of energy, but now the world is faced with paying the price in the form of climate change.

and continued

At the negotiating table, it is the cost - and not the science - of responding to climate change which takes precedence, says Michael Zammit Cutajar, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change "The negotiations are initiated by scientific assessment, but held back by economic defensiveness", he says.

Such views are widely held. On the same day, under the heading "World has 15 years to stop global warming", the Science Correspondent of The Times, Mark Henderson, told us that:

The world has no more than 15 years to start cutting greenhouse gas emissions if it is to stand a chance of curbing global warming, one of the United Nations most senior climate scientists said yesterday. ..... If international agreements to control such gases continue to be delayed, it will be too late to prevent a major impact, Bert Metz, of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told the international climate summit in Bonn.


1. Robert J Foster (Ph 61.3.9525 6335 & Fx 6345) is an Adelaide engineer by qualification, a Shell geoscientist by experience, a former GM Marketing at BHP Petroleum, and was latterly a consultant in energy economics. He is now Hon. Treasurer of the Royal Society of Victoria, an Hon. Fellow in the School of Ecology and Environment at Deakin University, and Victorian representative on the Environment Committee of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Bob is a founding director of The Lavoisier Group Inc (, which is putting to Australians a view on climate-change countervailing to that of IPCC.

Next day, a full-page advertisement appeared in the International Herald Tribune on behalf of the "emission 55" group of companies - including names such as Alternative Energiesysteme Scherf GmbH (Germany), Japan Wind Development Co. Ltd., Solarmundo (Belgium), and the ever-present Swiss Re - saying:

We call on the governments of the world to ensure the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol no later than 2002.

Bianca Jagger of The Observer, in a piece of 22/7/2001 entitled "America the unbeautiful: if President Bush refuses to change himself, we must do it for him", went further:

Is Bush aware that we face a life-threatening outcome if Kyoto is not ratified? If we were to follow his advice, we would become the only species on earth to spend our last days monitoring our own extinction.

The report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is described as the most comprehensive study on the subject to date and warns of large-scale and irreversible climate changes, of devastating droughts, floods, violent storms in addition to the spread of cholera and malaria. Earth’s temperature could rise by as much as 5.8 degrees C over the next 100 years.

..... if Bush is successful in sabotaging attempts to stop global warming, he will condemn us all to catastrophe. We do not have much time left.

Although action now is not an obligation, because the treaty is neither ratified by Australia nor yet in force, there are clear commercial benefits for Australian companies in early greenhouse abatement action linked to anticipated commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. An immediate start on reducing CO2 pollution would serve as an insurance policy for both the economy and the environment.

Action now to begin the stabilisation of global climate is a wise and appropriate application of the ‘precautionary principle’.


2. 1 Look before you leap

Alert readers will have noted already that everything written above is either simplistic or wrong.

Companies which make investments relying on greenhouse-inspired subsidies, or on prices and markets which are propped up by expectations that the Kyoto Protocol will come into force, run serious commercial risks. The herd instinct is a dark and powerful force.

There are two main pressures working against the ultimate enforcement of this treaty, or of some near-equivalent. These are identified below.

2.2 Science and the environment

The first is in the science/environment area. The science underpinning Kyoto is a ticking time-bomb. It appears likely that observed warming since the industrial revolution had little to do with human-caused changes to the composition of the atmosphere; and the flow of new observations makes this conclusion increasingly difficult to ignore.

IPCC recognises global warming of some 0.6 0C during the 20th century, according to its Third Assessment Report entitled "Climate Change 2001: the scientific basis". But its warning of impending doom is not based on the implausible assertion found in the TAR Summary for Policymakers (released at Shanghai on 21/1/2001) that:

There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming over the past 50 years is attributable to human activities.

Instead, it stems from computer-generated studies saying (in the same Summary, and already leaked at the time of the US presidential election) that:

The globally averaged surface temperature is projected to increase by 1.4 to 5.8 0C over the period 1990 to 2100.

IPCC might be right, of course; but we have absolutely no way of knowing. But even if the computer models replicated observed climate change over the past century - and they don’t - their projections would only work if there were a uniformitarian world ahead, with no natural climate variability. Once we introduce the real world of abrupt nonlinear transitions between climatic regimes, projections such as IPCC purports to present remain a computational impossibility.

The other side of the same coin is well put by Sallie M. Baliunas (at least, electronically):

Without computer models, there would be no evidence of global warming, no predictions of disaster, no Kyoto.

Now for the first of the battles in progress - that for funding. (I am not talking here of the quotidian struggle to persuade governments to spend more of their tax-payer’s money on science; I support that.) It is a contest between observational and deductive science - the collection and analysis of data - on the one hand, and computer modelling on the other. Running large and sophisticated models is very costly; and money spent on modelling is money not spent on observations.

But there is more to it than cost. Despite great progress in developing numerical models, serious practical difficulties remain. In order to model the unmodellable, data must be homogenised by averaging in the spatial and the temporal sense. As a consequence, the meaning in hard-won data is lost. This applies to model-based projections of climate.

In conclusion, action now on distant, globally-averaged, and above all spurious, computer projections diverts money and zeal from the world’s real, well-defined, and immediate environmental needs. Sadly, the Kyoto Protocol is itself an environmental threat.

2.3 Economics and politics

The second battle is in the economics/politics area. When George W. Bush wrote on 5 March 2001 that "I oppose the Kyoto Protocol", the treaty was in trouble; and if there were any doubts about the President’s resolve, they were dispelled when he attended the EU/US summit in Gothenburg on 14 June. Is Bush "an enemy of human-kind" as claimed by the Green Party allies of France’s prime minister Jospin, or is the new Administration merely a "presidency of dunces" as The Guardian would have it?

Goran Persson, Bush’s host at Gothenburg, gave us a clue by describing the EU as "one of the few institutions we can develop as a balance to US world domination".

An editorial in the Daily Telegraph of 18/6/2001 developed this intriguing theme. The problem at the heart of the transatlantic relationship appears to be:

..... that in perfecting the EU, the European political and official classes are engaged in an act of state-building that has little unifying glue beyond resentment of American power.

The Kyoto Protocol is a political treaty. National economic self-interest appears to have driven the US decision to oppose it, because ratification would begin a struggle for economic supremacy of which the EU would be likely winner.

The Protocol of 10/12/1997, whose detailed provisions were under negotiation at Bonn, requires the US to reduce its relevant greenhouse gas emissions to 93% of their 1990 level during the 2008-12 accounting period. The European Community accepted a seemingly more-rigorous 92% GHG target, but its commitment is not as challenging as it might appear.

Serendipitous changes - the collapse of the fuel-inefficient (and coal-fired) industries of the DDR following German reunification, and the replacement of Scargill coal by Thatcher/Lawson gas in UK power generation - provide room within the EC’s ‘balloon’ for meeting the target without demanding much from the smaller member states who have little direct interest in a transatlantic power struggle.

For instance, Spain (whose primary energy consumption in 2000 was 119% that of Australia) has an individual target of 115%; and smaller energy-users Greece and Portugal have 125 and 127%, respectively. (If you think there is some sleight-of-hand here, wait until you see the targets for Russia and Ukraine, below!)

A ratified Protocol would be a powerful engine for improving the economic performance of Europe vis a vis the United States; and gas holds the key.

The new Administration’s interest in opening up exploration acreage in ANWR, has much to do with finding the gas which would be needed for replacing coal in power generation - if the US is to succeed in curtailing the growth of its GHG emissions.

In 2000, Europe imported over twice as much gas by pipeline from the Russian Federation as Asia did in the form of LNG from all of Australia, Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia (all such from bp statistical review). Russia holds almost a third of the world’s proven gas reserves, and regions within pipeline reach of Europe - North Africa, Middle East, Former Soviet Union - contain 77% of world reserves, cf 3% in the United States.

Indeed, the battlefield is not just Europe vs America, but also coal vs gas (and subsidised renewables). The US holds 25% of the world’s coal, and other large reserves are in Russia (16%), China and India, down to Australia (9%). By far the largest coal reserve in the EU is that of Germany, at 7% of the world total - but this is high-cost coal. The Protocol gives Germany the means of meeting a pressing economic need for which it has no political stomach: closing down its large, and heavily subsidised, coal industry - and generating electricity from (Russian) gas, instead. Kyoto suits Germany.

But, utilisation of the UK’s gas reserves is already so high, and its nuclear stations (25% of electricity in 2000) are already so old, that the Protocol might soon be recognised for what it is: more threat than benefit - in both economic and security-of-supply terms. For the UK, much more than for continental Europe, Kyoto is a trap unsprung.

However, the United States’ potential handicap arising from its heavy reliance on (low-cost) coal for power generation has been ameliorated by its insistence at Kyoto that international trading of carbon emission permits be part of any agreement. A recent study (Painuly 2001, The Energy Journal v 22 no 3, pp 147-69) suggests that keeping to the agreement as defined in 1997, from national resources only, would cost the US economy some US$70B per year (in 1995 dollars). Unfettered international trade in emission permits would reduce that cost to less than half.

The Russian Federation and Ukraine have targets of 100% - although 2000 consumption of primary energy was only 75 and 50%, respectively, of their 1990 level. This gap ("hot air" in the economic literature) could be preserved as a windfall gain for GHG emission control, or it could be traded to wealthy countries like the US and Japan for much-needed hard currency. Emissions trading would provide welcome financial support for two sick economies; but this otherwise-worthy objective has little to do with the spirit of Kyoto.

Australia’s target of 108% sounds undemanding, but that is not the case. In a Battle of the Giants between US and Europe, collateral damage to Australia’s LDC-like economy would be inevitable. The region to suffer most would be Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.

Could the treaty ultimately come into force without the US? Who knows?

But what we do know is important, even crucial. Those who said that the time for consideration of the science had expired may have been right - until President Bush’s letter of 5 March last. We now know that there is time to look again at the science.


3.1 The ‘Greenhouse Effect’ hypothesis

The physics supporting the ‘Greenhouse Effect’ hypothesis of global climate change are not in dispute.

The main point of contention between IPCC (plus its "consensus of 2500 of the world’s top climate scientists") and the contrarians (such as me) is whether the available observations tend to provide empirical support or disproof of that hypothesis. Is it the Greenhouse Effect which is driving global climate change - or has observed change over the past 50 years some other cause? We call the alternative: ‘natural variability’.

Greenhouse is a phenomenon of the atmosphere:

* Human-caused greenhouse gas emissions (principally CO2 from the combustion of fossil fuels) accumulate in the atmosphere. These GHGs are transparent to incoming short wavelength solar radiation, and hence the quantity of heat reaching the Earth’s surface is not affected.

* But, in order to keep its average temperature unchanged, Earth reradiates to space at longer wavelengths an equivalent quantity of heat. The anthropogenic GHGs absorb some of this out-going radiation, and the lower atmosphere (say, the lowest 8 km) heats up as a consequence.

* Some of this extra warmth in the lower atmosphere is, in its turn, radiated to space, and some is redistributed to the Earth’s surface. The extra heat reaching the surface causes warming; and this consequential surface warming is the greenhouse warming of the IPCC Report.

It is this resultant surface warming which we call the ‘greenhouse effect’. GHGs don’t warm the surface directly; the atmosphere must heat up first. Thus, if there were no prior warming of the lower atmosphere, there would be no subsequent greenhouse effect.

3.2 A 25-year discernible human influence?

I will now show that ‘25’ is an important number for climate-change science.

IPCC’s Second Assessment Report, entitled "Climate Change 1995: the science of climate change", provided the scientific underpinning for the Kyoto Conference in 1997. Its Preface tells us that:

..... the underlying aim of this report is to provide objective information on which to base global climate change policies .....

Moreover, the most profound impact on the policies negotiated at Kyoto stemmed from the only scientific statement which appears already in the SAR’s preface of 11/3 pages:

..... that observations suggest "a discernible human influence on global climate", one of the key findings of this report, adds an important new dimension to the discussion of the climate change issue.

It is repeated in the Report’s Summary for Policymakers, but not verbatim, as follows:

..... the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate.

After release of the Report, the man who became the principal representative of the United States Administration at Kyoto in 1997, Timothy Wirth the Under-Secretary of State for Global Affairs, is reported in a Nature news item on 25/7/96 as follows:

Wirth described as a ‘remarkable statement’ the conclusion of the IPCC’s latest report on climate change, that ‘the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate’. He said the administration took the report ‘very seriously’.

However, this influential claim is not contained in the body of the 572-page Report! Instead, it was supported by a bizarre paper published later in (Santer et al 1996, Nature v281, pp 39-46), where a model-derived distribution of warming in the lower atmosphere is matched by that observed from weather balloons over a 25-year period. This successful pattern-matching was claimed to denote "a discernible human influence".

The Nature paper begins plausibly enough. Human-caused CO2 emissions are long lived, and hence evenly distributed in the atmosphere. Not surprisingly therefore, the model-based calculation show hemispherically-symmetric warming of the lower atmosphere.

On the other hand, the sulphate aerosol emissions also associated with the combustion of fossil fuels, are short-lived and hence are localised in their region of origin. About 90% are released in the Northern Hemisphere and, again not surprisingly, the model calculates that most of the aerosol cooling is in that Hemisphere.

When the two runs are combined, their sum yields little warming in the temperate latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, but pronounced warming at the same latitudes in the other. So far, so good. But the trouble starts when the Nature paper claims that (the rather sparse) balloon observations in the period 1964-87 show a similar warming trend in the 30-60 oS portion of the lower atmosphere - the pattern matching.

But we know that despite the paucity of cooling aerosols in the Southern Hemisphere, this is the very hemisphere whose atmosphere is cooling. How then did IPCC conjure up its warming trend?

A second paper (Michaels and Knappenberger 1996, Nature v 384, pp 522,3) tells us how. The original paper discarded the first 5 years of (warmer) available data, and started in a cooler period associated with the Mt Agung (1963) volcanic eruption. It then discarded the last 8 years of (cooler) data to ensure that it finish in the warmer period associated with the 1987 El Niño event - hence its (spurious) warming trend.

 If the study had not discarded the latest available years, it would have been forced to include the cooling of the subsequent La Niña - followed by the even-deeper cooling associated with the Mt Pinatubo volcanic eruption. The warming trend would have disappeared; and IPCC’s patterns would have no longer matched. The "discernible human influence" is an artefact of the years chosen!

IPCC’s TAR of January 2001 reports, without warning us that its earlier conclusion was politics not science, that:

The SAR concluded: "the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate". ..... Since the SAR, progress has been made in reducing uncertainty, particularly with respect to distinguishing and quantifying the magnitude of responses to different external influences.

Spurious or not, IPCC’s ‘warming trend’ is only for 25 years. This relatively short run of data did not inhibit the most influential conclusion of SAR; and IPCC has not used TAR to retract it. We now know that even a short trend can be acceptably long.

3.3 The atmospheric temperature record

There is available since 1958 an adequate record of atmospheric temperature from weather balloons (at least over land in the temperate regions - and better in the Northern Hemisphere), and since 1979 a comprehensive global record derived from polar-orbiting weather satellites. Where there is overlap, the agreement between balloons and satellites is excellent; and we have now a 43-year record of temperatures in the lower atmosphere.

Remember, this is where the greenhouse effect hypothesis - and IPCC’s numerical models incorporating it - predict lower-atmosphere warming greater than, or at least equal to, that at the surface, in response to increasing human-caused GHG emissions.

We find there is no warming trend for temperatures in the lower atmosphere from the late 50s to the mid 70s, rather a slight cooling - despite accelerating GHG emissions over that period. This is not a surprise; there is no warming trend at the surface over that period, either.

A prominent step-jump in atmospheric temperature coincided with that at the surface in 1976/77, and globally-averaged atmospheric warming has continued slowly since then.

During the 22-year period of near-complete coverage by satellites, the average temperature in the lower atmosphere has increased by only 0.05 0C per decade. Although remotely-sensed rather than directly-measured, the satellite-derived atmospheric temperature trend is likely to be at least as reliable as that at the surface. Therefore, for the years since 1979, we can begin to draw conclusions.

The first conclusion is crucial. Over the same 22-year period (1979-2000), surface warming at about 0.15 oC per decade, has been much greater than in the atmosphere!

3.4 An exercise in obfuscation: when in doubt, average!

How does IPCC’s TAR deal with this remarkable dichotomy? Does it say that the simplest explanation of the available evidence is that greenhouse was not the main cause of observed surface warming during the past 22 years; and thus, natural variability provides a much-more-plausible explanation? Only joking.

The Summary for Policymakers concentrates instead on the longer record. Both surface and atmospheric versions display a slight, but difficult-to-explain, cooling from the 1950s to the mid 70s. Then follows, in each record, a step-jump of about 0.3 oC at 1976/77 - neither highlighted by IPCC in its Summary, nor emerging from the calculations of its models - which denotes the most prominent climatic transition of the 20th century.

This abrupt and big, but quite unsung, change between climate states is succeeded in turn by strong continued warming at the surface. The lower atmosphere tells a very different story. Here, the warming trend in the Northern Hemisphere is only 0.07 oC per decade; and the Southern has a slight cooling trend of 0.02 oC per decade.

IPCC keeps out of trouble by dealing in global averages. Furthermore, it manufactures similar-looking atmospheric and surface warming ‘trends’ by going back to the 50s and averaging out the decades of cooling (we know that the surface has cooled since the mid 40s, in fact) with the signal 1976/77 step-jump and the lesser continued warming.

The Summary obfuscates the import of these unwelcome facts in a very Byzantine way:

* On average, between 1950 and 1993, night-time daily minimum air temp- eratures increased by about 0.2 oC per decade. This is about twice the rate of increase in day-time daily maximum air temperatures (0.1 oC per decade). ..... The increase in sea-surface temperature over this period is about half that of the mean land surface air temperature.

* Since the late 1950s (the period of adequate observations from weather balloons), the overall global temperature increases in the lowest 8 kilometres of the atmosphere and in surface temperature have been similar at 0.1 oC per decade.

* Since the start of the satellite record in 1979, both satellite and weather balloon measurements show that the global average temperature of the lowest 8 kilometres of the atmosphere has changed by +0.05 +/- 0.10 oC per decade, but the global average surface temperature has increased significantly by +0.15 +/- 0.05 oC per decade. The difference in the warming rates is statistically significant.

* The lowest 8 kilometres of the atmosphere and the surface are influenced differently ..... Hence, it is physically plausible to expect that over a short time period (e.g. 20 years) there may be differences in temperature trends.

Dear reader, forgive me for such a long quote. But you now can see for yourself the lengths to which IPCC will go in order to avoid a confrontation with the facts.

3.5 Is there yet evidence for greenhouse warming?

A question which might well have engaged the TAR Summary for Policymakers much more than it has, is: has there yet been observable - ie not just model-derived and globally-averaged - ‘greenhouse effect’ warming at the Earth’s surface?

Although the answer is almost certainly ‘yes’, we can come to a second conclusion without further delay. Despite the paucity of ‘cooling’ aerosols in the Southern Hemisphere, its atmosphere has not warmed, but cooled, over the past 22 years. The simplest explanation for this observation is that there is no significant ‘greenhouse effect’ warming in the Southern Hemisphere.

Surface warming since the 1976/77 jump has been more prominent in the Northern Hemisphere than in the Southern - although the great preponderance of aerosol emissions is in the north. Furthermore, even in the Northern Hemisphere, increasing Pacific sea-surface temperatures have not resulted in continued warming of the overlying atmosphere. Furthermore, the most prominent surface warming, while it is in the Northern Hemisphere, is north of the mainly-oceanic (and mostly aerosol-free) regions.

More specifically, the prominent surface warming observed since 1976/77 has been over land, particularly in Siberia (and also Alaska/Yukon), in winter, and hence largely at night. This warming coincides with the intensely cold, and very very dry, high pressure cells which dominate these regions in winter.

A plausible explanation for these observations involves water. This naturally-occurring substance influences global, regional and local climate in a multitude of ways. It is widespread in the atmosphere as a gas (water vapour) and a liquid (eg clouds). For instance, it appears to be variability in cloudiness which is limiting the warming of the atmosphere overlying the warming equatorial Pacific.

By far the most effective greenhouse gas is water vapour, and it tends to mask the impact of the lesser GHGs - CO2 for instance. It is only in very dry air that anthropogenic CO2 could have its maximum warming impact. But very cold high-pressure cells, such as that overlying Siberia in winter, are bone dry.

The simplest explanation for warming in these high-pressure cells is greenhouse warming. The third conclusion is that the surface warming at higher latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, over land, in the winter night, is caused by the ‘greenhouse effect’.

What are the environmental consequences of this greenhouse warming? ‘Not much’, is the apparent answer. Temperatures which were below freezing, although warmer now, remain below freezing; in addition, the growing season has lengthened in some areas. The impact on global averages looks more significant than does the local impact. As yet, greenhouse warming deserves no place of priority in the world’s litany of pressing environmental needs.


4.1 Taking the long view

We need a perspective within which to evaluate IPCC’s version of climate-change science and, more important, the plausibility of its model-based projections of climate change during the century ahead. How significant is human-caused climate change vis a vis natural variability?

Natural variability is complicated; and just a few words won’t do it justice. Starting 50 million years before the present gives us a long view indeed, but it does return us to a warm, wet, and ice-free world (crocodiles north of the Arctic Circle). Greenhouse warming must provide a large part of the reason, with atmospheric CO2 concentration then at 2000-4000 parts per million.

Since those halcyon days 50 myBP, the world has cooled under the influence of drifting continents. Substantial changes in oceanic circulation patterns, mountain building leading to accelerated erosion and reduced atmospheric CO2 content, and consequential creation of a global ‘refrigerator’ in the form of the giant East Antarctic ice-sheet, are the outcomes.

As a result, we live now in an Ice Age of long Glacials and short Interglacials on a 100,000-year period. At the time of the Last Glacial Maximum, some 20,000 years BP, world sea level was about 130 metres lower than today, largely because of the continental ice-sheets accumulated on northern Eurasia and, particularly, northern North America (a kilometre of ice at the site of Detroit). Australia too was cold then, but very dry with desert dunes extending across Bass Strait onto NE Tasmania.

The natural variation in atmospheric CO2 content during the present Ice Age, between about 180 and 280 ppm (for instance at the LGM and in pre-industrial times of the current Interglacial, respectively), is more likely to be an outcome than the cause of this cyclicity.

There is little doubt that the dominant 100 ky Glacial/Interglacial cycle is orbitally driven. But why should minor changes of insolation have such a profound impact on climate? Clearly, feedbacks which vary the proportion of in-coming solar heat absorbed at the Earth’s surface are crucial. For instance, sea-ice reflects some 80% of the heat which strikes it - and open water only about 20%.

Nested within the dominant cycle, are other global climate cycles at 40 ky and around 20 ky (less prominent now than in the past) which are also orbitally forced. A series of shorter cycles, or quasi-cycles, of less-than-global reach have periods ranging from a few thousand years down to (in the case of El Niño) a few years. Orbital variation cannot explain these shorter-lived climatic fluctuations.

Prominent during the last Glacial, is the series of Heinrich events at a variable frequency averaging some 7 ky.

These striking events originated in the launching of an iceberg armada into the Atlantic, mostly from the Baffin Bay region of North America. Each such surge of continental ice is memorialised by the deposition of a trillion-tonne layer of ice-rafted detritus on the seabed from Labrador to Ireland. The Glacial climate in the North Atlantic Basin mega-region cooled further at such times, but then followed an abrupt regional warming of 5 oC or more in a few decades or less.

Here is an entirely different - inertially-based - mechanism for natural variability. Surging of continental ice into the ocean (internally-triggered within the ice-sheet, rather than in response to contemporary fluctuations of external climate - materials science, not climatology per se) increases the radius of gyration of the Globe, because ice at high latitudes becomes water in equatorial seas.

The spinning globe decelerates in order to preserve its level of angular momentum, and length-of-day increases as a consequence. But the mobile oceans are not glued to the stony Earth. The preservation of linear momentum of the great currents in geometrically-complex ocean basins, causes the temporary disruption of oceanic heat transportation.

Inertial effects and hunting/resonance arising therefrom, such as might be caused by ice-surges or lunar influences, must be added to changes in atmospheric composition and orbital factors (variations in eccentricity, obliquity and precession) as triggers for natural climate variability. But there is more: yet to be discussed are solar/celestial influences.

4.2 IPCC on natural variability

IPCC has not forgotten natural variability; instead, it belittles it. The opening page of the TAR Summary puts it this way:

New analyses of proxy data for the Northern Hemisphere indicate that the increase in temperature in the 20th century is likely to have been the largest of any century during the past 1000 years.

This self-serving conclusion is only possible because of the way the evidence is handled. Most of the ‘proxy data’ for the first 900 years is from growth-rings in trees at high latitudes or high altitudes. When the 900-year run of palaeo-temperatures thus derived is plotted on the same graph as the last 100 years of thermometer measurements, the resultant graph shows a rather featureless 900 years of slightly-declining temperature followed by a very pronounced up-tick over the last 100 years. Readers will recognise this graph as the fabled Mann hockey-stick.

It will not surprise to learn that trees grow in the growing season. And for these trees, we are talking of 3-6 weeks in early summer.

But we also know that the locus of Northern Hemisphere warming, while certainly at higher latitudes and over land - where the trees are - is in winter.

IPCC’s miss-conjunction is a howler of the schoolboy sort. It compares 900 years of apples with a 100 years of oranges. When two millennia of consistently-sourced high-latitude tree-ring temperature proxies are plotted, the 20th century no longer looks anything special.

4.3 The role of ice in climate change

Between the remarkable Heinrich events, there is a second, less-spectacular, cycle of warm/cold/warm episodes centred on the lands surrounding the North Atlantic Basin. This lesser natural variability, at a frequency of 1500 +/- 500 years, is not confined to the last Glacial. It continues right through the present (Holocene) Interglacial of the past 10,000 years; and the Roman Empire warm period, Dark Ages, Mediaeval Warm Period and Little Ice Age are its latest manifestations.

Direct evidence of appropriately-timed ice-surges from Greenland, and indirect evidence of reduced quantities of equatorial surface water reaching the Nordic seas, exists in oceanic sediment cores. This lesser cyclicity is also a response to the episodic launching of continental ice into the sea. It is inertially driven.

The evidence suggests that the mechanically-triggered dumping of Greenland ice is fully compensated over time by new snow. Sea level might fluctuate slightly, but there is no net trend.

But this is not the whole story. Two thirds of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has collapsed into the sea in a series of surging episodes during the Holocene, raising eustatic sea level in total by some 11 metres. This implies big physical changes; and during this time, the grounding line of the WAIS on the Ross Sea coast has retreated some 1300 km along the foot of the Transantarctic Mountains.

That regional dynamic changes continue in WAIS is confirmed by the discovery of present-day surging. Several ice-streams debouching onto the (floating) Ross Shelf are moving at speeds of up to a kilometre per year, and those into the Amundsen sea by twice as much.

Clearly, more research is needed on this neglected topic. For information on the current status of our understanding, see Alley and Bindschadler 2001, in The West Antarctic Ice Sheet: behavior and environment, Antarctic Research Series v 77, pp 1-11.

For the purpose of this analysis, it is important to remember that in terms of its inertial impact, and hence its potential climate-change impact, it matters little where an ice-surge enters the sea.

4.4 Little Ice Age: the last cold period

Understanding the Little Ice Age is crucial to an understanding of 20th century climate change.

There is good evidence that the advent of the LIA (ca AD 1300-1900) was in response to an inertially-triggered reduction in the northerly flow of warm water. And, although similar evidence is still lacking, it is plausible that its termination involves corresponding rejuvenation of this flow.

Overprinting the LIA cool period, were several intervals of more-intense cold. These correlate with periods of reduced solar eruptive activity as evidenced by, for instance, reduced sun-spot numbers. Reduced shielding of Earth by a weakened solar magnetic field allows a greater incidence of cosmic rays, thus causing increased ionisation in the atmosphere - and increased incidence of (cooling) low-level clouds as a consequence.

Solar/celestial factors also influence natural climate variability.


5.1 Rebound from the Little Ice Age

I concede that the sections above and below comprise an over-lengthy discussion of the pervasive role of natural variability in climate change. But consider how much IPCC has written in support of the human-caused alternative for observed change in the 20th century!

The last colder period of the LIA coincided with the Dalton (sunspot) Minimum of AD 1800-20. Since then, there have been three prominent tranches of warming, of which the first two were in the first halves of the 19th and 20th centuries, respectively, and the third was post 1976. There was net cooling, albeit slight, in the intervening periods.

In 1800, atmospheric CO2 concentration was about 280 ppm, and was still only 310 ppm in 1950; it has now attained some 370 ppm. Because most anthropogenic CO2 entered the atmosphere post-WW2, it is unlikely that response to GHG emissions caused these first two episodes of warming.

On the other hand, circumstantial evidence supports solar magnetic activity as one of the main factors influencing natural climate variability up to 1950, and beyond.

Although, insufficient evidence is available for us to say with certainty that human-caused greenhouse warming was not a factor, a more-plausible explanation is the combined impact of a strengthening solar magnetic field, and rejuvenation of the previously-curtailed flow of warm surface water into the Nordic seas.

The 20th century is considered in more detail below.

5.2 Climate change during the 20th century

Average near-surface global temperature increased by about 0.6 oC during the 20th century, in two roughly-equal tranches - from early in the century up to about 1945, and from 1976 to the present.

The stated increase is only an approximation, for two main reasons:

* Two-thirds of the Globe is covered by water, where the measurement of surface air temperature is difficult, and appears to have been consistently overstated;


* Many on-land measuring stations are subject either to declining observational standards, or to the warming impact of land-use changes - such as deforestation, over-grazing and, most particularly, urbanisation - which are unrelated to greenhouse.

However, in timing and direction, even if not in magnitude, the 20th century record is unequivocal - Earth has warmed.

It is implausible that the warming which began early in the century, and the cooling from the late 1940s, are related to the greenhouse effect. Disproof, however, is beyond us. But what of the present tranche of warming, which began with a prominent step-jump at 1976/77?

As detailed in Section 3.3 "The atmospheric temperature record" above, we have an adequate atmospheric record since 1958. All agree that greenhouse is a phenomenon of the atmosphere; and if there is no prior warming of the lower atmosphere, there can be no consequent ‘greenhouse effect’ warming at the surface. Here at last, we have direct evidence on which to base our conclusions.

Over the past 43 years, it is only in 1976/77 that temperatures in the atmosphere and at the surface moved substantially in concert. Therefore, IPCC’s authoritative-sounding assertion "that most of the observed warming over the past 50 years is attributable to human activities" is almost certainly wrong.

What then is its cause? We do not have far to look. The direct cause of the most notable climate change in the 20th century was a sharp reduction in the supply of cold, deep, water to the surface of the eastern Pacific between the upwelling seasons of 1976 and 1977 - which has not reversed to this day. Clearly, the contemporaneous step-jump in the temperature of the lower atmosphere was an outcome, and not the cause, of this remarkable event.

5.3 The climatic step-jump at 1976/77

The abrupt 1976/77 reduction in Pacific upwelling had widespread, even approaching global, consequences. For instance, the heat content in the upper levels of the Atlantic increased, as did winter wave activity along the coast of NW Europe.

In the NE Pacific, commercial catches of salmon and sardine recovered to levels equalling those of the previous warm period (and previous period of reduced upwelling) which finished in the mid 1940s. Many other physical and biological discontinuities occurred at about the same time.

There is little doubt that the direct cause of the most-recent tranche of warming was a major re-ordering of oceanic heat transportation. There is no secret here; this event and its consequences are well-documented in the scientific literature. But what was its underlying cause? No-one knows. However, there is a correlation which may be the fingerpost we need.

5.4 The ‘Oceanic Impedance’ hypothesis

Length-of-day reflects Earth’s rate of spin, and changes in LOD indicate acceleration or deceleration as it maintains angular momentum in the face of changes in radius of gyration. The advent of each of the two tranches of 20th century warming coincided with a reduction in the rate of increase of LOD (which increases, albeit not steadily, throughout the century). Here we have the signature of inertial influences - natural variability, unrelated to changes in atmospheric composition.

Whatever their cause, the climatic impact of inertial changes would be amplified by the complex basinal geometry of the world’s oceans. There is already some evidence that the flow of warm surface water, from the equatorial Pacific and then across the Atlantic, is at times impeded as it passes through the Caribbean en route to the Nordic seas.

The evidence is abundant that links the current tranche of global warming directly to a sharp reduction in the quantity of deep water reaching the surface in the eastern Pacific. What I term the ‘Oceanic Impedance’ hypothesis of global climate change offers a plausible explanation for the reduced upwelling at 1976/77, and hence for the abrupt change of global climatic regime which occurred at that time. But IPCC’s ’Greenhouse Effect’ hypothesis does not.


6.1 The uniformitarian world

One of the most celebrated battles of ideas in the 20th century was that between the uniformitarian paradigm which had dominated geoscience for more than a century, and Wegener’s continental drift hypothesis first published in 1912. (Wegener was a meteorologist, not a geologist.)

Hutton and Lyell believed that the slow-acting, continuous, and ever-present geological processes observable today, combined with long elapsed times, were sufficient to explain the world we see. They eschewed the concept of abrupt or catastrophic events. The world’s geologists fought like tigers to repel the new paradigm, and thus preserve the intellectual capital built up over their working lives.

Uniformitarianism was finally overthrown in the 1960s by advances in geophysical observation. Plate tectonics, entailing sea-floor spreading and subduction of one plate-margin beneath another (slow-motion catastrophism, if you like), became the new dominant paradigm.

Even at a time-scale relevant to humans, natural discontinuity is rife. The periods of global warming which began at the start of the 20th century and again in the late 1970s, or the period of cooling which began in the late 1940s, constitute sharply-defined shifts of climatic regime with multi-decadal duration - albeit overprinted on a longer warming trend going back to about AD 1800.

6.2 Nonlinear transitions between climatic states

Why do we hear so little of natural variability? One reason is that step-jumps between climate states, such as that at 1976/77, are not replicated by the numerical models on which IPCC relies. Nor can its models predict similar abrupt changes to come - in either direction.

IPCC copes with the inconvenience of computer-unfriendly reality by ignoring it. IPCC’s models need a uniformitarian world.

6.3 IPCC’s computer models

Today’s dominant paradigm is computer-model-based. Of necessity, it invokes an idealised and model-friendly world - trendless, save for human-caused changes to the composition of the atmosphere. Uniformitarianism lives.

Under the misleading heading "Confidence in the ability of models to project future climate has increased", the Summary for Policymakers in TAR tells us that:

Complex physically-based climate models ..... still cannot account fully for the observed trend in the surface-troposphere temperature difference since 1979 .....

IPCC might well have mentioned, but didn’t, that even before 1979 (ie the advent of satellite-derived data), the reconciliation between models and reality was sustained only by invoking cooling aerosols to bring its over-sensitive (and hence, over-predicting) models back into line with an under-warming world.

But we know, because 90% of the ‘cooling’ aerosols are emitted in the hemisphere which is doing the warming, that aerosol cooling is a chimera.

Undeterred and shameless, IPCC’s Summary continues:

In order to make projections of future climate, models incorporate past, as well as future emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols. Hence, they include estimates of warming to date and the commitment to future warming from past emissions.

Why is IPCC saying this? True, GHGs have a residence time in the atmosphere of decades to centuries; but with aerosols, it is only days to weeks. What is going on here? Why mention past aerosols in the context of future climate?

The trail of red herrings IPCC is laying in TAR continues:

* The globally averaged surface temperature is projected to increase by 1.4 to 5.8 oC over the period 1990 to 2100.

* Temperature increases are projected to be greater than those in the SAR, which were about 1.0 to 3.5 oC..... due primarily to the lower projected sulphur dioxide emissions .....

First of all, what IPCC is asking us, in effect, is to forget that its models:

* ignore natural variability during the 20th century, in the form of nonlinear (and hence unmodellable) transitions between climate states of multi-decadal duration;

* recognise all 20th century warming as greenhouse warming;

* invoke (spurious) aerosol cooling to bring its over-predicting models back into line with observations over the past century.

IPCC then takes two steps into the unknown. The first is the quite unjustifiable assumption that there will be no natural variability in the 21st century. The second relates to obscure words in the "projections of future climate" quote (at the bottom of the previous page).

By treating all the 20th century warming trend (rather than, say, less than a third of it) as attributable to greenhouse, and by assuming that much warming has been masked by aerosol cooling, IPCC has been able to derive a substantially greater sensitivity of climate to greenhouse warming than reality would justify.

IPCC then assumes in its extreme projection of warming to 2100, that future ‘cooling’ aerosols are largely removed from stack-gases at the power station - thus unleashing the full quantum of warming inherent in its over-sensitive models.

In reality, IPCC’s models have no predictive merit.


There are penalties for saying that the Emperor has no clothes. In addition, large energy companies, particularly Shell of course, are scarred by the Brent Spar experience.

Presently, the notable contrarian among the larger multinationals is Exxon. But slight the dominant paradigm at your peril. Choosing not to be an ostentatiously-good corporate citizen is a dangerous course indeed.

A "Business Comment" piece in The Sunday Telegraph of 24/6/2001 entitled "Shareholders should become eco-warriors" shows us why:

Global warming and the responsibility of energy companies are at the top of the agenda. ..... The ‘Stop Esso Campaign’ is asking British drivers to shun Esso stations until the company supports Kyoto.


The issue is not whether Exxon is right and everyone else is wrong. It is rather that Exxon management has stigmatised its business as being confrontational and insensitive to public concern. ..... Should not Exxon’s shareholders require their directors either to change their leadership or change direction?

Furthermore, Bianca Jagger of The Observer tells us (22/7/2001) that she has:

..... joined forces with Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to launch a boycott of ExxonMobil products. We believe that transnationals have an obligation to the global community on issues of social responsibility. ExxonMobil does not adhere to this philosophy; it believes that human survival may simply not be economic.

Could it be that, in this instance, acting on ‘public concern’ would harm the environment - by promoting the diversion of our limited resources to a spurious threat? This is where President Bush comes in. His determination not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol gives us time to look afresh at the science of climate change.


If you believe that by ‘doing the right thing’ about greenhouse gas emissions we humans can stabilise global climate, you will believe anything. Natural variability - in the form of abrupt nonlinear transitions between climatic trends - is the way of the past, present and future.

Furthermore, and irrespective of longer-term trends, we can’t prevent the recurrent mass human misery which extreme climatic events bring. But when help is needed, we can do a better job of ameliorating suffering. This is adaptation, not prevention.

The world and Australia ignore pressing environment needs; and irreversible erosion of biodiversity is the consequence. An autistic fixation with a remote and ill-defined, unsubstantiated and probably spurious, greenhouse threat to the environment is diverting money and zeal from real, here-and-now, environmental imperatives. In its effect, the Kyoto Protocol is itself an environmental threat.

But, is not this treaty solely aimed at protection of the environment?

No it isn’t; the 1997 Protocol is a political treaty. It is a weapon, forged in Europe, for use in a transatlantic war of economic domination.

If the Protocol were to proceed in the form agreed at Kyoto, the US would be put at a serious economic (and hence, ultimately political) disadvantage vis a vis Europe. Australia, with its LDC-like economy, would suffer serious collateral damage in this Battle of the Giants; and the state first to be seriously hurt would be Victoria, particularly its Gippsland region.

Ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by either the United States or Australia serves no environmental purpose. It would be an act of economic and political appeasement.

But what of the science?

The science of climate-change is a ticking time-bomb; and the evidence is building, year by year, that IPCC is wrong in its assertion:
..... that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.

Greenhouse is a phenomenon of the atmosphere. Thus, if the atmosphere is not warming, that extra warmth cannot be redistributed to cause ‘greenhouse effect’ warming at the surface. Human-caused GHG emissions don’t warm the Earth’s surface directly.

A comprehensive coverage of temperatures in the lower atmosphere is available since 1979; and for the past 22 years, the surface has warmed more than twice as fast as the overlying atmosphere!

As time passes, the conclusion is becoming nearer and nearer to inescapable. How long will it be before IPCC is forced to concede that human-caused greenhouse emissions are not the major cause of observed present-day surface warming - and that its projections of human-caused warming a century ahead are without merit?

Perhaps 22 years is an insufficient run of data. Would 25 years, as previously adopted by IPCC, be conclusive?

Nevertheless, if there is not a narrowing soon forthcoming in the gap between atmospheric and surface warming trends, IPCC will be forced to acknowledge that natural variability is the main current driver of climate change. Once this concession is made, the Kyoto Protocol becomes irrelevant.

Therefore, investments by Australian companies in products, processes or services which rely on ratification of the Kyoto Protocol for their long-term viability, are a gamble on something outside human control.

As the years pass, and the atmosphere still fails to keep pace with the surface, that gamble becomes more and more unwise.

Posted 21st, August, 2001
You read it first here

© 2001  Bob Foster
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