In a recent issue of the Australian and New Zealand Wine Industry Journal, a well known West Australian wine maker, Mr Erl Happ, published an opinion piece on climate change – expressing doubt that it is caused by industrial greenhouse gas emissions. To cite Erl’s conclusion:
Greenhouse theory does not stack up. ‘Tropo’ in ‘troposphere’ is Greek for ‘turning’. If the surface of the Earth heats up the troposphere turns faster and eliminates heat more efficiently. At an average depth of 10km, the troposphere is very thin. Moving air will not hold heat. Even in the warmest places, the nights can be cool. It is the ocean that is the real store of warmth and it is the coastal places that stay warmer overnight and in winter. Carbon dioxide is less than one-twenty-fifth of 1% of the air that we inhale. It is a much larger fraction of the air that we exhale. Are we to breathe less deeply and exercise less vigorously to reduce our carbon footprint? Carbon dioxide is what the plants need to make them grow and that is why it is scarce. While we have plants it will always be scarce. More carbon dioxide enables plants to grow faster and use less water. This will help to green the deserts. Let us not confuse environmental religion with observational science. Reliable science explains what we observe. One can not understand the climate system without an appreciation of the influence of geography, spatial relations, ocean currents and the physics that drive cloud cover over the tropics. We have managed to banish religion from politics. Now we need to do the same for science.
You can read the full opinion piece as a PDF here.
I was asked by the editor to write a short response, which was published in the latest issue. I hope if gives you a useful idea of how to respond, formally, to such pieces (the version that appeared in the journal was trimmed and edited a little compared to the submitted version I reproduce below).
A general critique of Erl Happ’s ‘El Niño warming’ opinion piece
In the July/August issue of the Australian and New Zealand Wine Industry Journal, Erl Happ published an opinion piece on climate change and its relationship to ocean dynamics and the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). It is not reasonable to attempt a direct, blow-by-blow critique of Mr Happ’s personal theories on climate change, because they constitute little more than a haphazard mishmash of fact, distortion, poorly contextualised data and ‘gut instinct’. I will instead use a few points to illustrate a more general interpretation of scepticism of mainstream climate science.
Mr Happ complains that climate warming is not global because it is confined to the Northern Hemisphere. This is patently not true. For instance, comparing the decade a century ago (1898-1907) to the most recent decade (1998-2007), we find that global temperatures are an average of 0.87°C hotter (based on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data cited by Mr Happ). In the Northern Hemisphere, which is more readily warmed due to a large continental land mass, the difference is 1.13°C. In the Southern Hemisphere, predominated by ocean which takes longer to change temperature (because water has a higher thermal inertia, it takes longer for energy gain to be manifested as a temperature rise), the warming over 100 years is 0.61°C. Yet , starkly, there has been no trend in ENSO intensity or its frequency of return, nor in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, nor in sunspot activity, to account for this systematic change in the global climate system.