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It’s an Unsettling Climate for skeptical scientists like Murry Salby

UPDATED: The full text is now available at City Journal.
Rupert Darwall is the author of Age of Global Warming (and earning excellent reviews). Darwall has a gift for converting tricky scientific concepts into a story. This month in the City Journal, he beautifully summarizes and updates the story of Murry Salby. He’s interviewed Richard Lindzen and others, and discusses Salby’s work in the context of the way heretics are marginalized.

I helped Rupert with some of the background. It’s controversial science, a complex situation, with irrelevant baggage to boot. But that’s exactly the place where science communicators — or in the case of Rupert, excellent historians — are most keenly needed. The scientists, who are more the numbers-men are the ones who need their stories told, because they are the ones not so inclined to play the PR and networking games. Bureaucratized science attracts and rewards the network players instead, and so it has become that even academia favors the social-climber scientists and grant-players over the people who are more interested in data. (Like modern bureaucratized art, where the grants go to those who are good at getting grants, and the art looks more and more like fingerpainting.)

The real science comes with numbers not press releases — and the data-crunchers have so much more to offer. Where do they belong, and who looks after them? They, who really need a whole PR department, increasingly seem to end up without one, wandering in the  independent online science movement, where at least their ideas get a hearing.

I’ve copied some extracts of Darwall’s article below. I recommend reading it all if you can. At the moment that is only available through the print copy of the City Journal.

An Unsettling Climate

Setting the scene:

In April 2013, concluding a European tour to present his research, Salby arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris for a flight back to Australia, where he was a professor of climate science at Macquarie University. He discovered, to his dismay, that the university had canceled the return leg of his nonrefundable ticket. With Salby stranded, Macquarie then undertook misconduct proceedings against him that swiftly culminated in his dismissal.

I wrote about this extraordinary incident in July last year and asked Did Macquarie University sabotage, exile, blackban, strand and abandon Murry Salby?

Rupert Darwall describes Salby’s distinguished history involving work at Georgia Tech, Princeton, Hebrew, and Stockholm Universities before coming to the University of Colorado. He talks of how Salby’s work on ozone validated the science behind the 1987 Montreal Protocol. When Salby wrote a graduate textbook, it was described as “unequalled in breadth, depth and lucidity,” by one reviewer. Later Salby started to examine man-made global warming but ‘what he found left him “absolutely surprised.” ‘

Salby’s recent work is so controversial because it questions the key IPCC assumption, that man-made CO2 emissions cause global levels of CO2 to rise. As I described it way back in 2011:

Over the last two years he has been looking at C12 and C13 ratios and CO2 levels around the world, and has come to the conclusion that man-made emissions have only a small effect on global CO2 levels. It’s not just that man-made emissions don’t control the climate, they don’t even control global CO2 levels.

Salby’s trip to Europe was to present and discuss exactly this point — is humankind to blame for the CO2 levels rising, or was it a warming ocean and soil moisture changes?

In Salby’s view, the evidence actually suggests that the causality underlying AGW should  be reversed. Rather than increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere triggering global  temperatures to rise, rising global temperatures come first—and account for the great majority of changes in net emissions of CO2, with changes in soil-moisture  conditions explaining most of the rest.

 His work is so fundamental, it could really pull the rug out from under the entire IPCC thesis:

Why is the IPCC so certain that the 5 percent human contribution is responsible for  annual increases in carbon dioxide levels? Without examining other possible hypotheses, the IPCC argues that the proportion of heavy to light carbon atoms in the atmosphere has “changed in a way that can be attributed to addition of fossil fuel  carbon”— with light carbon on the rise. Fossil fuels, of course, were formed from plants and animals that lived hundreds of millions of years ago; the IPCC reasons that, since plants tend to absorb more light carbon than heavy carbon, CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels reduce the share of heavy carbon in the atmosphere. But Salby points to much larger natural processes, such as emissions from decaying vegetation, that also reduce the proportion of heavy carbon. Temperature heavily influences the rate of microbial activity inherent in these natural processes, and Salby notes that the share of heavy carbon emissions falls whenever temperatures are warm. Once again, temperature appears more likely to be the cause, rather than the effect, of observed atmospheric changes.

Further, Salby presents satellite observations showing that the highest levels of CO2 are present not over industrialized regions but over relatively uninhabited and  nonindustrialized areas, such as the Amazon. And if human emissions were behind rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, he argues, then the change in CO2 each year should track the carbon dioxide released that year from burning fossil fuels— with natural emissions of CO2 being canceled out by reabsorption from land sinks and oceans.

But the change of CO2 each year doesn’t track the annual emission of CO2 from burning fossil fuels, as shown in Figure 1, which charts annual emissions of CO2, where an annual increase of one part per million is approximately equivalent to an annual growth rate of 0.25 percent.  While there was a 30 percent increase in CO2 fossil-fuel emissions from 1972 to 1993, there was no systematic increase in net annual CO2 emission— that is, natural plus human emissions, less reabsorption in carbon sinks.

In normal times, Salby’s work solves a lot of puzzles:

Were it not for its implications for AGW, Salby’s research on the carbon cycle might be a boon to the IPCC’s troubled effort to explain interannual variability of CO2 emissions. His work offers a coherent picture of changes in net emissions, where the changes closely track a combination of temperature and soil moisture— explaining both the low net  emissions of the early 1990s and their peak in 1998. Salby also contends that   temperature alone can largely account for the rise in atmospheric CO2 through the earlier part of the twentieth century, when soil-moisture data are inadequate. Net methane emissions track natural surface conditions even more closely.

Inconvenient papers are slowed and delayed:

One way they block off inquiry is to ensure that papers by dissenting climate scientists are not included in the peer-review literature—a problem that Lindzen and Bengtsson have encountered. Indeed, that is what happened to Salby. He submitted a paper on his initial findings to the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences. Finding no errors— one reviewer called it “absolutely amazing”—the journal required minor revision. Before Salby could return the revised paper for publication, the editor of a different journal, Remote Sensing, resigned for publishing a paper that departed from the IPCC view, penning an abject confession: “From a purely formal point of view, there were no errors with the review process. But, as the case presents itself now, the editorial team unintentionally selected three reviewers who probably share some climate skeptic notions of the authors.” Shortly afterward, Salby received a letter rejecting his revised paper on the basis of a second reviewer’s claim—contradicted by the first reviewer—that his paper offered nothing new and that all of it had already been covered in the IPCC’s reports.

 The whole article in the City Journal is much longer — it’s truly an  in depth feature review that has taken months to put together. It’s an important article because it will reach a new audience far beyond the online blogosphere and it’s a story that needs to be told.

All my posts on Murry Salby

Age of Global Warming

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