The Happer Letter: Re-Opening the Climate Change Debate

Tom provided us with this article from the WSJ regarding renewed debate on climate change in Australia. In order to expand upon that, I wanted to provide the text of the Happer Letter which is referenced in the article.

The Happer Letter

Dear Editors:

Fifty-four current and former members of the American Physical Society have signed the attached Open Letter to the APS Council calling for a reconsideration of its November 2007 Statement on Climate Change. The Open Letter includes a proposed Alternative Statement which the signatories find a more accurate representation of the current state of the science than the unsupported assertion of the APS: “The evidence is incontrovertible.”

Regarding the National Policy Statement on Climate Change of the APS Council: An Open Letter to the Council of the American Physical Society

As physicists who are familiar with the science issues, and as current and past members of the American Physical Society, we the undersigned urge the Council to revise its current statement* on climate change as follows, so as to more accurately represent the current state of the science:

Greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, accompany human industrial and agricultural activity. While substantial concern has been expressed that emissions may cause significant climate change, measured or reconstructed temperature records indicate that 20th – 21st century changes are neither exceptional nor persistent, and the historical and geological records show many periods warmer than today. In addition, there is an extensive scientific literature that examines beneficial effects of increased levels of carbon dioxide for both plants and animals.

Studies of a variety of natural processes, including ocean cycles and solar variability, indicate that they can account for variations in the Earth’s climate on the time scale of decades and centuries. Current climate models appear insufficiently reliable to properly account for natural and anthropogenic contributions to past climate change, much less project future climate.

The APS supports an objective scientific effort to understand the effects of all processes – natural and human — on the Earth’s climate and the biosphere’s response to climate change, and promotes technological options for meeting challenges of future climate changes, regardless of cause.

* The statement of the APS Council, adopted on November 18, 2007 is as follows:

“Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth’s climate. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide as well as methane, nitrous oxide and other gases. They are emitted from fossil fuel combustion and a range of industrial and agricultural processes.

The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.

Because the complexity of the climate makes accurate prediction difficult, the APS urges an enhanced effort to understand the effects of human activity on the Earth’s climate, and to provide the technological options for meeting the climate challenge in the near and longer terms. The APS also urges governments, universities, national laboratories and its membership to support policies and actions that will reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.”

These next two quotes are from one of the scientists that signed the letter. They are comments on the WSJ site, including the article which Tom supplied.

The debate isn’t over the reality of climate change. The reality of warming is obvious, as manifested by lengthened growing seasons, melting glaciers and arctic ice, etc. The debate isn’t really over whether warming is the result of anthropogenic greenhouse gases. That is hard to prove rigorously, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that when you throw a blanket (greenhouse gases) over a heat source (the surface of the Earth, heated by sunlight) it will get warmer. This has been understood for a century; nothing new here, and no “emerging consensus”. It has been known all along.

The debate should be over whether climate change is good or bad for us, and whether (if bad) we should try to slow or reverse it rather than adapting to it. Historical evidence and common sense suggest that longer growing seasons and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are, on balance, good for us. We should be grateful for it. People won’t freeze in the dark for the sake of a scientific theory, even a correct scientific theory.(More…)

and this:

As a signatory of the Happer letter, I would like to add a few words, speaking only for myself and not for anyone else. I think the following statements, some of which are controversial, are likely to be closest to the truth:

The climate has warmed in the last century, and particularly in the last 30 years.

Year-to-year temperature changes are like weather, and do not indicate a long term trend.

It is likely, though certainly not proven, that adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere warms the climate. That is the simplest and most naive consequence of the physics. The actual climate system is complicated, and it is possible, but (to me) somewhat implausible, that the net effect would be the opposite.

Greenhouse warming occurs chiefly when and where the weather is cold: temperate winters and polar regions. Hot weather doesn’t get any hotter, but cold weather gets warmer.

There is no evidence that warming would change the frequency or severity of storms, droughts, or any other bad thing, or that these have become more severe or more frequent in the last few decades. The Sahel is moister than it was twenty years ago, when there were fears the Sahara was expanding southwards.

There is no “emerging consensus”. The basic physics has been understood, approximately, for a century. It isn’t understood any better now. The climate models disagree widely about the amount of warming (though they all agree that there will be warming) and there is no prospect of reducing this disagreement.

The most important effect of warming is longer growing seasons in temperate and sub-arctic regions. This is good for humanity.

Climate changes continually, with or without anthropogenic influence. Like weather, there is nothing we can do about this. People are adaptable, and will adapt to climate change, just as they adapt to weather.

There is no excuse for the recent global warming hysteria, or the attempt to suppress debate by silencing the skeptics. We may not agree with them, but they deserve to be heard, and there is no need to rush to judgement. (More…)

Let’s apply Occam’s razor on the most basic climate change concepts:

  • Do greenhouse gasses reduce the loss of heat from the environment?
  • Are greenhouse gasses not actually present in the atmosphere at the measured levels?
  • Are the noted increase in greenhouse gasses not the result of the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities?

If you answer no to any of the above three statements than you might as well stop reading because you and the entirety of the physical science community are unlikely to ever see eye-to-eye. You are attempting to refute scientific fact.

It is outside of these basic statements where “emerging consensus” must yield the floor to “open debate.” Although the basic science appears incontrovertible, the details are too complicated even today.

  • The climate models disagree widely about the amount of warming;
  • Is climate change good for society (longer growing seasons) or bad for society (rising oceans);
  • To what extent should a response to climate change be preventative and to what extent should it be ameliorative;
  • Poverty. Cheap energy alleviates poverty. Regardless of whatever else may or may not have to happen in order to make said energy clean, cheap energy alleviates poverty. China knows this. India knows this. Hard-core climate changers are purposefully blind to it.

Just because the floor has been opened to debate does not mean that now is a time for complacency. Regardless of what the ultimate climate change solutions end up being, we know their basic framework: conservation where it doesn’t impact your lifestyle, technology where it does.

I strongly believe that, for better or worse, Americans are not going to change their lifestyles on account of the long-off threat of climate change. But there are lots of things that you can do which don’t impact your lifestyle even remotely and more importantly, they will save you money while you wait for technology to save the day.

  • Change your light bulbs.
  • Insulate your water heater.
  • Drive the small car whenever possible.
  • Recycle.
  • Get an electric heat pump.

Humans are adaptable. Time after time for millenia, we have overcome obstacles. Man-made climate change is like a mosquito on the face of history. The best case scenario is an annoying little itch. The worst case is a little malaria.

Just be glad its not a Tsetse fly.

FWIW

Two other points/arguments to refute.

  • Just because the earth’s climate has changed in the past, and it has, without anthropogenic or episodic (volcao, etc.) influence does not mean that is the case this time.
  • The “global cooling” consensus of the 1970′s never existed and was mostly media hype. There were more published papers in the peer-reviewed journals about potential global warming than global cooling during the ’70s, along with more citations of global warming papers.

    Major publications such as Newsweek, Time, the New York Times and National Geographic published articles in the 1970′s about the possibility of a new ice age, but Thomas Peterson of the National Climatic Data Center surveyed dozens of peer-reviewed scientific articles from 1965-1979 and found the following…….

    7 supported global cooling.
    44 predicted warming.
    20 were neutral in regards to future climate trends.

But, Just For Fun…

When it comes to saving the planet do celebrities practice what they preach?

‘It’s true – we’re hypocrites over our huge carbon footprint,’ confesses Sting’s wife

Al Gore wouldn’t dream of suggesting that the Hollywood Establishment lavish jet-setting and gas-guzzling lifestyles could be reined in for the good of the environment.

MD Governor O’Malley expresses support to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90% between now and 2050.

MD Governor O’Malley bars wind turbines from being built on state land.

Government officials and activists flying to Bali, Indonesia, for the United Nations meeting on climate change will cause as much pollution as 20,000 cars in a year.

Joel Makower, environmental author and lecturer, embarrassed by the 51 flights he took in 6 months, but won’t stop flying anytime soon.

Barbara Streisand lists simple things you can do to help stop Global Warming.

Barbara Streisand tours with the help of 13 trucks and a private jet.

Comparison: Al Gore’s house vs. George W. Bush’s house

2 Comments

  1. Nice post Brian. As someone who has always been on the fence about the seriousness of Global Warming, it’s nice to see someone take a measured approach. Too often with this topic you hear either outright scorn from GW skeptics or fanatical ranting from believers.

  2. We were searching for solve climate change and came across your The Happer Letter: Re-Opening the Climate Change Debate | Newsburglar page. My greatest concern is power, unless we stop using coal the world is going to be in serious danger.
    I am surprised scientists are not looking at using more clean energy like Marine Energy sort of like Florida based Crowd Energy. If we dont fix this problem now its going to get bad.
    Have a nice day, Lagos

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