- By Randy Brich -
The following is an exclusive Nuclear Street interview with Norwegian physical geographer Dr. Ole Humlum, who currently teaches at the University of Oslo. He is the creator of the singular climate science website www.climate4you.com and the author of a book on climate. While requesting his monthly newsletter, I asked if he’d provide me with a copy of his book for review. Since his book is in Danish (which I don’t read) he generously agreed to an interview.
Raw, uncut and uncensored, Nuclear Street proudly presents this interview with Dr. Humlum, an expert’s expert on the topic of man-made global warming.
Nuclear Street: When will your book be translated into English?
Dr. Humlum: I am afraid that it may not appear in English. I guess that there are already several fine books available on this particular subject.
NS: Is it known what natural forces or sets of circumstances caused the ice ages and what is the probability that the northern hemisphere will experience another ice age despite the increasing levels of CO2 due to burning fossil fuels?
Dr. Humlum: Among geologists and glaciologists working with the ice age issue the general opinion is that because the timing of changes in the Earth's orbit around the Sun (Milankovitch cycles) fit with the general timing of ice ages, this is likely to be the fundamental driver. However, in order to establish an ice age (or to get out of one) we need a number of feed-back mechanisms, operating here on planet Earth.
The cause of ice ages remains controversial for both the large-scale ice age periods and the smaller ebb and flow of glacial/interglacial periods within an ice age. The general consensus is that it is a combination of several important factors: atmospheric composition (the relative amounts of water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, sulfur dioxide, and various other gases and particulates in the atmosphere), changes in the Earth's orbit around the Sun known as Milankovitch cycles (and possibly the Sun's orbit around the galaxy), the motion of tectonic plates resulting in changes in the relative location and amount of continental and oceanic crust on the Earth's surface, variations in solar output, the orbital dynamics of the Earth-Moon system, the impact of relatively large meteorites, and eruptions of supervolcanoes.
(Read more: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_caused_the_Ice_Age#ixzz1Ec4Vfzd8)
The likelihood of experiencing a new ice age sometime in the future is very high according to this explanation. Personally, I find it hard to accept that increasing atmospheric CO2 should be able to do very much against such a development, as data from the real world suggest that the climatic influence of CO2 is small, and much smaller than assumed by most climate models.
NS: What are the two or three most important things that the general public should know about the contemporary subject of global warming, climate change, global climate disruption or whatever else it's being called these days? I.e., is there really a lot of science involved or is it mostly just modeling using a single variable--that being increasing CO2 levels?
Dr. Humlum: I my opinion these three things might be useful:
1: Better knowledge about the long record of natural climate changes documented by the geological record.
2: Better knowledge on recurrent natural climate change phenomena, which occurs within shorter time scales of 5-500 years. This is actually well documented by ice core records and by standard meteorological series.
3: Better knowledge about the character of the experiments carried out on the temperature effect of CO2. These are laboratory experiments, and there are several big steps from a controlled lab environment to the real complex atmosphere of planet Earth.
NS: Is there any empirical evidence, pro or con, that ambient CO2 levels affect global temperature? If you have a figure on your site demonstrating this could you please include it as you know a picture's worth a 10e+3 words?
Dr. Humlum: The lab experiments on CO2 are fine, in my opinion. I personally, however, doubt that we can transfer directly this insight to the much bigger problem of analyzing the effect in Earth's much larger and more complex atmosphere. If we instead use the past as a key to understand the present, the net influence of CO2 appears to be small. (Click on diagram at right to download.)
NS: Is there any empirical evidence that past temperature increases correlate to increased CO2 levels? Again, a figure would be nice.
Dr. Humlum: In my opinion, this is not the case. I believe the previous figure again will illustrate my point.
NS: Based on your understanding of human history...If you had to choose an optimum temperature for the earth based on the human perspective would it be warmer or cooler than current temp, or does it even matter?
Dr. Humlum: Judging from human history warm climate clearly appears to be superior to cold climate. With this said, I would also like to mention the very human fact, that any change from a pleasant situation to a less pleasant (usually cooler) situation always tend to be unwelcomed, for understandable reasons. On the other hand, climate change has always occurred on planet Earth, and many of these changes presumably have been the main driver for cultural developments over time. So in a long-term (Darwinistic) perspective I believe change (including climate change) to be a good and necessary phenomenon. We have always (within the period with homo sapiens) been able to cope with climate change by using our brain (adapting), and I believe that this will be the case also in the future. So I would hesitate before naming an 'optimal' temperature.
NS: Do you have an opinion on the near term effects of the current negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the La Ninia? I.e., can we expect several more increasingly colder and snowier winters?
Dr. Humlum: I have not looked into this issue for other areas than northern Europe and the European part of the Arctic. Within these areas (at least) I would expect some cooling for the coming 5-7 years, after which there might again be a warm peak, much like the one we just have passed 2000-2007. Following that I would expect some repeated cooling, not to the Little Ice Age level, but to something near what was experienced 1970-80 in Europe. This depends of cause very much on the future behavior of the Sun, which just now apparently is trying to teach us all something new. In any case, I would not myself expect continuous future warming as envisaged by most climate models.
NS: Finally, would you comment on Al Gore's assertion about scientific consensus that he made at Aspen recently:
“The general consensus (recognizing global warming) is so strong and so firm and so widely shared now, that it is clearly the basis for action that the rest of us ought to take.”
Dr. Humlum: As I see it, there is no such thing as scientific consensus. First of all, my personal experience suggests that at least 1/3 (and it could well be more) of all scientists working with meteorology and climate disagree more or less directly with the CO2-hypothesis: That atmospheric CO2 has a dominant role on global climate. Secondly, consensus is a phenomenon well known within a political context, but it has nothing to do or offer in science. The fine rules of democracy and majority decisions has no place in science. The only thing in the long run that matters in science is who is correct. I assume that Mr. Gore refers to the concept of consensus because he sees the global climate change as a political issue, and not from the standpoint of a scientist.
The CO2 hypothesis - as all other scientific hypotheses - has to stand the test of time, by being exposed to scientific attempts of falsification. This, however, requires that the proponents of the hypothesis come up with prognoses about phenomenon, which can be measured and checked in the real nature now, or at least within a few years. This has not been happening, and we are usually told to wait 50 or 100 years before we can see if the forecast (a significant global temperature increase) was correct or not. This is of course not acceptable, and it is also highly unscientific. A high number of publications coming up with evidence which may be accommodated within the CO2-hypothesis are of little value compared to just one publication, which describes a situation where the hypothesis is shown to be wrong. That’s the way real science operates and progresses. Unfortunately, my personal impression is that several leading journals are unwilling to publish papers attempting scientific falsification of the CO2-hypothesis, presumably because of the now heavily politically loaded climate change issue.
NS: Thank you for your time, Dr. Humlum. Good luck in your research, and we look forward to receiving your monthly newsletter updates.
Dr. Humlum: You are most welcome. Anybody interested in this newsletter can download it from www.climate4you.com or join the mailing list for automatic updates.
Dr. Ole Humlum's Biography:
1980: PhD. in Physical Geography, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
1983 - 86: Scientific Director, Arctic Station, Qeqertarsuaq (Godhavn), Greenland.
1986 - 99: Associate professor, Arctic Geomorphology, Inst.Geogr., University of Copenhagen.
1999 - 2003: Professor of Physical Geography, The University Center in Svalbard (UNIS), Svalbard, Norway.
2003 - Present: Professor of Physical Geography, University of Oslo, Norway.
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