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Carbon Brief Staff

18.04.2011 | 4:00pm
Science“Using our paper to support skepticism of anthropogenic global warming is misleading.” Part II of our analysis of the 900+ climate skeptic papers
SCIENCE | April 18. 2011. 16:00
“Using our paper to support skepticism of anthropogenic global warming is misleading.” Part II of our analysis of the 900+ climate skeptic papers

Post 2 of 3

Three respected scientists have independently complained that their climate studies have been misrepresented by sceptics in order to bolster a list of papers thrown together to challenge the consensus on global warming.

The authors of the list claim it includes more than 900 scientific papers which question human forced climate change, an assertion which has been repeated on blogs and the Global Warming Policy Foundation website. As we have already reported, nine of the ten most prolific authors have links to oil giant Exxon.

Some of the papers cited have been published in prominent peer review journals, including 34 from Nature and 33 from Science.

However, our analysis also shows that many of the papers do not focus on human-induced climate change – and so have little relevance to the theme of the list.

Furthermore, some of the authors featured on the list surprised us, so we contacted a selection to see whether they supported this interpretation of their work – the responses confirmed their work is being misappropriated by inclusion in lists such as this.

Professor Peter deMenocal, of the Earth Institute, Columbia University, told the Carbon Brief when asked about the inclusion of his paper on the list:

 “I’ve responded to similar queries over the years. No, this is not an accurate representation of my work and I’ve said so many times to them and in print.

“I’ve asked Dennis Avery of the Heartland Institute to take my name off [another similar] list four times and I’ve never had a response. There are 15 other Columbia colleagues on there as well … and all want their names removed.”

A paper on the list by Zeebe et al. published in the journal Nature Geoscience in 2009 studies the Palaeo-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), which is a period of rapid temperature rise around 55 million years ago.

The authors found that feedbacks such as increases in other greenhouse gases were responsible for a substantial part of global warming, alongside the direct impact of carbon dioxide.

The lead author, Professor Richard Zeebe, University of Hawaii, said:

“Using our paper to support skepticism of anthropogenic global warming is misleading.”

These two papers contribute to the scientific consensus on climate change,  rather than undermining it. Earth’s climate has changed throughout geological time. Studies like the papers listed here have helped to explain why, broadening our understanding of the climate system.

It is precisely our knowledge of these processes that allows us to eliminate them as the cause of the current warming trend. Manmade emissions of greenhouse gases are now the dominant factor forcing today’s climate.

A paper by Meehl et al, also placed on the list, discussed how the 11-year solar cycle has an amplified effect on climate signals in the tropical Pacific. The author of the paper, Gerald Meehl, of the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), said:

“It’s odd that our 2009 paper is on a site about global warming.  Our paper addressed specifically the climate system response to the 11-year solar cycle. Thus it is about decadal timescale climate variability.

“It said nothing about long-term warming trends, and in fact, in the last sentence of the paper, we state, ‘This response also cannot be used to explain recent global warming because the 11-year solar cycle has not shown a measurable trend over the past 30 years.'”

The inclusion of a paper studying the sun’s influence on climate is in itself very odd. It’s well established that solar irradiance has contributed little to warming since the 1960s, whilst the Earth’s temperature has risen. For example, a paper by Scafetta & West (2006) says:

“Since 1975 global warming has occurred much faster than could be reasonably expected from the sun alone.”

The authors of the list at Popular Technology appear to believe that studying the effect of non-human effects on the climate provides evidence to undermine the theory of man-made climate change.

In fact, it is precisely such work which shows that the man-made changes to our planet are unprecedented.

Read part 1: 9/10 top authors linked to Exxon

Read part 3: Energy and Environment – “journal of choice for climate skeptics”

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