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Global warming most definitely not a hoax - a scientist's rebuttal
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At Catholic Online we often receive letters and emails commenting on our content. Today we received a strong rebuttal to our interview with Dr. Mark Hendrickson of the Center for Vision and Values. This response comes from Dr. John Abraham, a scientist who works at the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering, a Catholic University in St. Paul, Minnesota.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - In a recent Catholic Online interview, we heard from a seemingly reputable person (adjunct faculty member Mark Hendrickson) that global warming is a hoax "perpetrated by those who let a political agenda shape science". This is a very strong charge that cuts to the professionalism and competence of myself and my colleagues. As a scientist who carries out real research in this area, I can say Dr. Hendrickson is demonstrably wrong. Now, in his defense, Dr. Hendrickson admits he is not an expert although he "has followed it for over 20 years." In this field, expertise is judged by research accomplishments. On April 12, 2013, I performed a literature search on Dr. Hendrickson, I could not find a single study he has ever performed and published on any topic, let alone climate change. So, he is clearly not an expert. Of course, Dr. Hendrickson is entitled to his opinion; this is a free country. But to speak authoritatively about a subject he knows little about does a disservice to the readers.
Dr. Hendrickson believes, erroneously, that climate science is like economics. Here he is wrong. Climate science is governed by physical laws (conservation of energy, conservation of mass, gravity, etc.) which have no corollary in economics. It is naďve to confuse economics and physical science disciplines.
But what about his claims? Are they correct? Not hardly. In his interview, Dr. Hendrickson was asked to explain temperature changes that have already been observed. He responded by belittling computer models. His answer obviously confused past temperature measurements with future predictions of temperatures; they are not the same. The evidence from measurements clearly shows that temperatures have increased significantly over the past 150 years (here and here for example) and temperatures are currently higher than the past few thousand years (here and here for examples). These are but a few of the many studies that show the temperatures we are seeing now are out of the natural range that is expected.
He claimed that satellites have shown no warming in the last two or three decades. This is also false. In fact, even data from two of the most prominent climate skeptics (Dr. John Christy and Dr. Roy Spencer) show temperatures are clearly rising. Their results are confirmed by other satellite organizations and institutes that use other temperature measurement methods such as the Hadley Center, NOAA, and NASA. Even a Koch-brothers funded study has concluded that Earth temperatures are rising and humans are the principle cause.
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What about the claim that the Antarctic is gaining mass? Again not true (here and here for example). What about the North Pole? There we have lost an astonishing 75% of the summer ice over the past four decades. Should we be concerned? Dr. Hendrickson is correct in stating that Arctic ice loss won't raise sea levels much because it is already floating in water. What he doesn't report is that Arctic ice loss is important for another reason. It helps keep the Earth cool by reflecting sunlight. The loss of this ice has led to an acceleration of the Earth's temperature rise. If you don't want to take my word for the importance of Arctic Ice, perhaps we could listen to the Director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (Mark Serreze). He has characterized Arctic is as in a "death spiral".
Dr. Hendrickson makes a series of other claims: the medieval times were warmer than today (false), there are 30,000 scientists with advanced degrees who have signed a petition to stop climate action (false), and that there are many scientists who have resigned from government research positions and begun speaking out against the science (he couldn't recall any names of such scientists).
So what can we make of all of this? First, it is obvious that non-experts like Dr. Hendrickson have every right to provide their opinion in any forum; however they must be held to the standards of truth and intellectual honesty. When someone makes serial and serious errors in his interpretations, those errors must be called out. Perhaps Dr. Hendrickson truly believes his statements are correct, but his belief does not make them so. This is why we defer to people who know what they are talking about. People who study this every day of their lives. Those people, the real scientists, clearly understand that climate change is a clear and present problem that will only get worse as we ignore it. Failure to deal with climate change will cost us tremendously, in dollars and lives. In fact, two (here and here) recent studies have shown that 97% of the most active climate scientists agree humans are a principle cause of climate change. Among the experts, there is strong agreement. It is up to each of us to decide who to believe (97% of the experts, or Dr. Hendrickson).
But this isn't all doom and gloom. The good news is there are solutions to this problem. Solutions we can enact today, with today's technology. If we make smart decisions, we can develop clean and renewable sources of energy. We can light our homes and power our cars while preserving this gifted Earth. Simultaneously, we can create jobs, diversify our energy supply, and improve our national security. Who can be against that?
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Failure to act is a choice. It is a choice with tremendous consequences. For me, the path forward is clear.
Dr. John Abraham
University of St. Thomas
School of Engineering
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