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Studies: Global warming, climate science far from settled

Published: Monday, Aug. 1 2011 4:43 p.m. MDT

In the face of repeated assertions that the science on global warming is settled, ongoing studies and developments in the area leave some insisting that claim remains true, while others say the science is anything but.

According to Gallups annual environmental poll, the percentage of Americans saying they worry a great deal or a fair amount about global warming has fallen from a high of 66 percent in 2008 to a stable 51 percent in 2011. Furthermore, 43 percent of Americans say the seriousness of global warming is exaggerated in the news.

A breakdown of global warming poll data shows that the issue remains mainly ideological, with 72 percent of Democrats saying they worry about global warming compared to 51 percent of Independents and 31 percent of Republicans.

As the global warming debate becomes more politicized in individual attitudes, state governments, Congress and even within the United Nations, the possibility of the science becoming truly settled appears unlikely.

In a study published July 25 in the science journal Remote Sensing, William Braswell and Roy Spencer, a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and a former senior scientist for climate studies at NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center, suggest the Earths atmosphere is more efficient at releasing energy into space than models used to forecast climate change have been programmed to believe.

The result, Spencer says, is that climate forecasts are warming substantially faster than the atmosphere.

At the peak, satellites show energy being lost while climate models show energy still being gained, Spencer said.

In short, Forbes reports, while global warming theory states that carbon dioxide emissions should be trapping a certain amount of heat in the earths atmosphere and preventing it from escaping into space, real-world measurements show far less heat is being trapped than computer models predict.

However, after the study was released, Stephanie Pappas, writing for LiveScience, said no scientist contacted by the organization found it credible.

This is a very bad paper and is demonstrably wrong, Richard Somerville, a scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, told The Associated Press. It is getting a lot of attention only because of noise in the blogosphere.

Writing at Business Insider, James Delingpole says the one question climate change believers should be made to answer is this: Whatever happened to global warming?

In one of the 2009 Climategate emails, Kevin Trenberth, lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, wrote, The fact is that we cant account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we cant.

This, along with the lack of statistically significant global warming for more than a decade, has led some scientists to create new theories on why the earth isnt doing what they expected it to do, Delingpole said.

One of these explanations is that Chinas coal use doubled from 2002 to 2007, putting more sulphate aerosol particles into the atmosphere and cooling the earth by reflecting solar energy back into space.

Another study suggests much of the same, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration claiming that airborne solid and liquid particles from both natural and man-made sources are increasing in the stratosphere.

Most of the global warming of the past half-century has been driven by continuing increases in anthropogenic greenhouse gases, the study said. But natural aerosols from particular colossal volcanic eruptions have significantly cooled the global climate at times.

Whether the science is settled or not, the BBC has decided to put the lid on climate change skeptics, The Guardian reports, after an independent review of its science coverage suggested it gave too much attention to global warming skepticism.

In the report, global warming skeptics were compared to people who believed AIDS had nothing to do with viruses, the MMR vaccine was unsafe, complex organs could never evolve or that 9/11 was a U.S. government plot.

The reason the BBC should limit the airtime of skeptics, the report said, is because they were actually in denial.

This is not the same as skepticism, for a skeptic is willing to change his or her mind when provided with evidence," the report says. "A denialist is not.

While its easy to suggest that day-to-day weather is an indication of global warming — something that was attempted after the major winter snowstorms in New York and Chicago, the rash of tornadoes in the South and the July heat wave across much of the country — weather patterns are not necessarily indications of global warming. Additionally, global warming science does have other weaknesses.

Patrick Michaels at Forbes says one of these weaknesses can be found in relying on "pal reviewed" science rather than peer-reviewed science. Even more concerning than pal science, however, is the possibility of suppressed science.

Charles Monnett, a U.S. government wildlife biologist, was placed on leave while he was investigated for integrity issues, Bloomberg reports. Monnetts work was featured in Al Gores documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, according to the International Business Times, and his observational report on polar bear drowning in 2006 helped the animals become the first species classified by the U.S. as being threatened due to global warming.

While Jeff Ruch, executive director of the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told the International Business Times that Monnett was being targeted as a way to interrupt his scientific studies, the Denver Post reports the suspension was not related to his scientific work.

A recent study at the worlds leading physics lab at the European Organization for Nuclear Research examined the role that energetic particles from deep space play in cloud formation. However, after the study was finished, CERN Director General Rolf-Dieter Heuer said scientists should refrain from drawing conclusions based on the experiment, The Register reports.

The reason for this, Heuer said, is because that would go immediately into the highly political arena of the climate change debate.

Nigel Calder, a British science writer, suggests the settled science of global warming may be one reason for the suppression of scientific conclusions from the study.

Its OK to enter the highly political arena of the climate change debate provided your results endorse man-made warming, but not if they support (Henrik) Svensmarks heresy that the sun alters the climate by influencing the cosmic ray influx and cloud formation, Calder writes. The once illustrious CERN laboratory ceases to be a truly scientific institute when its director general forbids its physicists and visiting experimenters to draw the obvious scientific conclusions from their results.

While the global warming debate may never be fully settled in the political arena or in the minds of individuals, Al Bredenberg at ThomasNet News writes that it's important for open-minded debate to continue — or even to begin.

True believers are fond of saying that there is no dispute about whatever they think should be the official version of the truth, Bredenberg said. That would work really well if they were in charge of a large society of, say, sheep. As much as researchers and pundits on both sides might hate to acknowledge it, human-induced climate change is a controversial question.

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