The Sun, a soda, and a scientific mystery. As a student we learn to ask questions, about everything. Today an important question is “What’s really causing Global Warming?” We’re told it’s CO2, but I was surprised to learn it could be something else. We certainly need to find out the truth. Some of my friends think the debate is over. Now I’m not sure. Taken together the Great Lakes are the largest body of fresh water in the world, with a huge watershed. The water level is down right now, but in the 1980s and 90s there was concern about high water and shore erosion. Weather changes constantly, day to day, month to month, and in yearly cycles. Scientists tell us the climate, like weather, changes in repeating cycles. Sometimes these changes create big problems for people living on planet Earth. It is an amazing world of stark and dramatic beauty. Giant ice flows seem to rise up from the ocean to stand guard over the mountains and fiords where most of its inhabitants live. We are in Greenland; the world’s largest island isolated between the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans.
The Norwegian Erik the Red came here in the 10th century. He named it “Greenland” and his followers settled here. For centuries they called it home. They came here as the saga says, around the year 985, and they found green valleys, valleys with a little, well with trees up to 3 or 4 meters high, a lot of grazing land. And beautiful countryside for a farmer. Back then, it was warmer. There were more trees, It was very good farming land, very fertile, and very green. Rumors of this wonderful land must have spread. So you had more inhabitants. We think of this as a rough life, but they have had fashionable clothing and they have had time to play. It’s been tough, but they have had good times as well. By 1100, the Viking communities in Greenland were vibrant and thriving. Then, within just a few hundred years… they were wiped out… because the climate had changed.
The climate changed, that’s a fact, everybody knows that. So it was getting very hard to be a farmer, and, well, they didn’t get enough hay for the animals, and the animals were freezing and starving so the animals died. And when the animals die, the people die. Around the year 1350 a representative of the Bishop Regatta visited the Western settlement and he wrote home and told that "There’s no one here." In just three hundred years Greenland had grown so cold that all the Vikings who lived there for generations were completely gone. Meet Dr. Willie Soon. He’s a scientist who studies climate. They must have wondered, “What happened to our climate system? Did we do something to cause this?” It would be really, really useful to learn from the Vikings’ example, how do we go about coping with big natural changes in the Sun and the Earth’s climate system? So, how can humans cope with natural changes in the climate system? Scientists study the past, to help them understand what’s causing similar changes today and they’re finding natural cycles that move between periods of warm and cold.
They’ve learned about these cycles by using a variety of techniques – ice cores, sediment cores, and tree rings. And they’ve identified a likely cause. Meet Dr. David Legates. Climate is not a constant. We go through periods where it's much warmer, where it's much colder. We go through periods where it's wetter and drier. So the one thing we can say about climate in the future is that it will change. As the Vikings green land turned to snow and ice, other parts of the world were cooling down, too. In England, the River Thames began to freeze over. So did canals and waterways in the Netherlands. The Earth’s climate was entering what scientists now call “The Little Ice Age.” Conditions were quite severe. In Western Europe, you can see people were actually praying in the church while the glacier is advancing, essentially are praying that, “Please God, don’t let this ice come in and ruin our village.” The Little Ice Age is part of a series of climate-change eras that have been scientifically identified. In Europe, there was a warming period at the height of the Roman empire, followed by a cooling during the Dark Ages. The climate warmed again during Medieval times, followed by “The Little Ice Age” during the Renaissance.
The Little Ice Age ended at about 1850. So over the past 150 or so years, we have been in a cycle where the earth has generally been warming. And this current climate cycle is what most people call… “Global Warming." The Sun is the key ingredient to climate. I mean, 99.9 percent of the energy on the Earth that goes into the climate system comes from the Sun. The Sun, of course, in terms of its light energy output, is probably the only true external driver of the Earth climate system, because there is no other forces on Earth that would supply that amount of energy, for the air to move around, the ocean currents to move around, or trees to grow. So there is no doubt that the Sun is the main driver and supplier of energy to the Earth’s weather and climate system. So – the Sun’s magnetic fields experience regular, natural cycles and scientists have found that when sunspot activity changes, temperatures on earth change.
Variations in radiation from the Sun would logically contribute to variations in temperature and climate on Earth. Dr. Soon says this is important when we’re trying to understand climate patterns. One thing is certain; the Sun’s natural cycles are a primary driver of natural climate cycles here on Earth. You have such a strong indication that there is this close relationship between how much the energy output from the Sun change, and then how much the temperature changes. What about the role that carbon dioxide, or CO2, plays in the Earth’s climate? Is the warming being caused by human-generated carbon-dioxide, is it the Sun, or is it a combination of these and other things? Humans do affect our environment, and one of the ways they do that is change the constituents in the atmosphere. I think the biggest driver is going to be other natural fluctuations, and carbon dioxide plays a small role in that.
The modern warming of Greenland has been going on since 1850; long before human generated CO2 was increasing. In general, there’s a consistent warming pattern. The best available records of temperature and atmospheric CO2 over the past 650,000 years indicate that the Earth’s temperature always rises first, followed by a rise in carbon dioxide, Published papers, clearly, clearly show that it is always the temperature rises first, by at least several hundred years, to a few thousand years. And then the carbon dioxide curve responds – and it follows. So, it is a very clear scientific consensus on this issue. If a warmer earth leads to increased levels of CO2 – and not the other way around – then can humans use of fossil fuel be the cause of global warming? Most of us still have that nagging question in us. “Yes, we have emitted all this carbon dioxide. Are we really, really melting all the icecaps, or is it something even more powerful than that?” I mean, meaning that, could it be even the Sun actually that is doing it? Some scientists think the world’s oceans may play a key role in all of this.
They contain large amounts of carbon dioxide, which, when the Sun heats them up, is released into the atmosphere. We see the same effect when we have a can of soda. As we’ve learned, the bubbles in soda are carbon dioxide – CO2. As you hold the can, it warms up and gives off bubbles of carbon dioxide. Leave an unopened can sitting on a picnic table and when you open it you get a dramatic idea of the impact of the Sun. If you started to warm the surface ocean temperature, the ability for the ocean water to hold this carbon dioxide in the system is a lot less, meaning there would be more of this carbon dioxide effusing out. Scientists are also looking at the icecap on Mars. It’s been shrinking like the Earth’s polar icecaps are shrinking.
Mars isn’t affected by CO2 we create to make iPods or grow more food, but it is affected by the Sun’s radiation. You clearly see drastic warming and melting of the icecap. There is no doubt there's something natural’s occurring that has caused the icecap to melt away on Mars, and the forces could not be human emission of carbon dioxide. The one thing I've learned over about 30 years of study of the climate has been it's a very complicated system. We like to simplify it for discussion with students, with laypersons, but it's really a very complicated system. This is the challenge. Do we really understand what’s happening? We are urged to accept just one theory – that human-generated CO2 is the principal cause of global warming. Yet these and other scientists point to other possible causes. The Journal “Physics and Society” which is a publication of The American Physical Society, with a membership of over 50,000 physicists now welcomes debate of the question.
Scientists are also expressing concern about the distortion of the science. Those views are indeed promoted by political bodies which is the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change. And there appears to be a corrupted process, in my opinion, of the bodies. There’s a science document which is really written by scientists, for scientists. There’s also a summary for policymakers. It’s put together by policymakers and in many cases, they go back to the scientists and say "Can you change the science document to match our summary? We want to beef this up. We want to make it look worse." That’s not the way science is done. I think science and scientists are being misused in a lot of ways. And these are all becoming really the war of words, instead of war of evidence and science, that troubles me. So the idea of science is you're really supposed to be skeptical.
So there's always a quest to verify what we know to understand that we haven't made a mistake, and that we continue on and develop science. If we've closed our minds, if we close the doors, we are now shutting ourselves out from the real truth, which is what science is all about after all. Does this trouble you? Why would these scientists be told not to question human created CO2 as a cause of global warming? What if human activities aren’t causing global warming? There is no one in the world who would insist that everything is having to do with the Sun. All we are trying to do is that there is this plausible picture of how the Sun could cause some of the changes in the climate system, and why not study it carefully? It’s very, very difficult, in my opinion, to try to insist and suggest that carbon dioxide, even as of today when we emit this carbon dioxide, is going to drive the climate system. This is a complete false picture, and there is no such scientific basis to support that. I’m not a scientist; I’m a student like you, but everyone knows what science says is true changes, with each new research project, and with every new piece of evidence.
Even research as recent as last year’s is frequently incomplete or inaccurate. From what I’ve heard the cost to reduce CO2 will be enormous and, as the scientists said, this may not even be the cause. We could create disaster for poor countries and hardship for all of us and not change the pattern of warming and cooling. We need to encourage scientists to consider every possibility. We need to get this right. Don’t you agree?.