The Silent Sun and Climate Change

sunspotsby James A. Bacon

One of the reasons I call myself a climate change agnostic — I’m not yet persuaded that man-made influences on the climate are pushing temperatures calamitously higher — is that there are alternative explanations for what has been driving long-term temperature fluctuations on the planet. One serious body of thought, largely overlooked by the climate establishment, posits that sun spots have a significant influence on the climate. That proposition is due to experience a major test.

As I understand it, sun spots are said to exercise an effect on climate through a complex chain of physical causation. According to this theory, sunspots indicate a heightened level of electro-magnetic activity on the surface of the sun. Electro-magnetic energy ejected from the sun interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field to reduce cosmic radiation penetrating to the atmosphere. Cosmic radiation interacts with chemicals in the atmosphere to seed certain types of cloud formations that reflect sunlight. The prediction arising from this series of conjectured linkages is that a dearth in sunspots will result in weaker electro-magnetic forces radiating from the sun, less blockage of cosmic rays, more cloud cover and lower temperatures.

Sun spots come and go in regular cycles, but the cycles vary in amplitude. As it happens, the sun is experiencing one of its weakest solar cycles in a century. (See this account at Vencore Weather.) Weak solar cycles — the so-called Maunder Minimum of 1645 to 1715 and the Dalton Minimum of 1790 to 1830 — coincided with the Little Ice Age. Some critics of the “consensus” climate-science view — that human-caused increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the critical variable driving climate change — suggest that the paucity of sun spots will induce a cooling of the Earth.

After reaching a new plateau of high temperatures in the 1990, the planet is in the 18th year of no meaningful temperature increases. That pause was not predicted by anyone hewing to the Global Warming “consensus,” and scientists are busily working to explain it within their own paradigm. But it’s also put-up or shut-up time for advocates of the sunspot hypothesis. If sunspots play a significant role in Earth’s climate, the weak solar cycle soon should be reflected soon in lower temperatures.

If global temperatures actually decline in the next few years, we could reasonably conclude that predictions of the Warmist camp to be refuted and the conjectures of the sunspot camp to be confirmed. On the other hand, if temperatures don’t decline, the sunspot people will have to go back to the drawing board and scribble some new equations. The one thing neither group is predicting is another two decades like the past two. It is entirely possible that both camps will be confounded. Wouldn’t that be something?

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4 responses to “The Silent Sun and Climate Change

  1. This is sort of like cheering that the scientists who predict hurricane paths – end up wrong on their predictions – saying the storm will hit one place with a certain intensity – upon which the region is evacuated at no small cost – and then the storm hits somewhere else at a much lower intensity causing millions of dollars of needless spending of money to evacuate.

    it just “proves” that science is bogus – right?

  2. No, science itself is the method, not the conclusion. The conclusion may well turn out to be in error, or ‘bogus,’ simply because the facts were not all known, or the relationships not sufficiently understood. But I’ll still take science over astrology, even if we don’t have all the facts. That’s the difference between an educated guess and a pure crapshoot.

    But what can we safely do, without all the facts? The problem with global warming hypotheses is that they attribute climate change of a relatively modest sort to mankind’s piddling influence, against a background of natural causes of dramatic climate change which we do not understand. The one thing that’s well demonstrated in the historical record is that the ocean front along what is now the mid-Atlantic coast has, within the past tens of thousands of years, moved from the Fall Line to the edge of the Continental Shelf and back again, multiple times, responding to changes in ocean level of roughly +/- 300 feet from what we see today. That’s far too swift a change to blame on tectonic forces; that was almost all climate-driven. Yet today we are pondering whether unilaterally to cripple our economy in order to lead the way among the world’s nations to preventing a potential rise in sea level of 1 to 2 feet.

    I will concede that the correlation between rising temperatures and rising greenhouse gasses is suspiciously strong. The evidence for warming in certain ocean waters and their ecosystems is strong, and the results are not pretty. I will concede that even two feet of rise in sea level would have disastrous consequences in many parts of this overpopulated world. I will grant you that we should take great pains to get answers quickly, rather than ignore what could well be the beginning of an accelerating phenomenon the reversal of which will become exponentially more difficult over time.

    But we just don’t understand those huge swings in sea level in such recent (geologic) times well enough to rule out the possibility, perhaps the likelihood, that everything we see happening today is merely evidence of some natural process we don’t understand just getting underway (or just winding down — that too). Indeed for all we know, our pollution of the atmosphere with our fossil-fuel hydrocarbon residues may be slowing a natural process that would otherwise have produced worse conditions. This natural process (or processes) may have a cyclical component — or not — we just don’t know.

    I am no expert on sunspots, or in the potential effects of solar electromagnetic radiation on climate. That the surface of the sun undergoes regular cycles of sunspot activity is well known; that those cycles vary in strength according to longer cycles has been suspected for a long time; and that such things could impact us here on earth, I have no doubt. So could volcanic activity here on Earth, with perhaps less reason to expect it to be cyclical. The importance of your theory, Jim, is that it is as plausible as any other, given our woeful lack of knowledge about the principal climate drivers over the past million years. Whether the sunspot theory or the atmospheric greenhouse gas theory or massive episodic vulcanism theory is right or not has not been demonstrated by persuasive evidence. What science does teach us: simple correlation is not proof of causality,especially when talking about a subject so rife with variables and sensitivities and feedback loops as the manipulation of climate.

    We will hear from folks who say, we must do something because the stakes are too high not to. I urge them to support the desperately underfunded basic research in climate modeling that is needed to really answer these questions — not, run around like so many Chicken Littles.

    • good considered words and not in strong disagreement with most butover the ages – we have come to “trust” science – even as we know it is imperfect.

      I know I sound like a broken record – but science and society – globally – was challenged by the discovery of ozone holes – and while there were _some_ skeptics and there was _some_ opposition to the changeover from CFCs – we did do it – and the subsequent evidence has demonstrated we made the right call.

      My suspects are that if we were confronted with the Ozone Hole problem today – it would end up the same was as Climate Change – which is MORE than just warming…

      It’s tied up in right-leaning politics that questions and distrusts govt and institutions… and we saw more of it in the vaccination issue and before that in people questioning whether science and govt was up to dealing with Ebola correctly.

      My whole problem is why would we preclude acting now – IF the consequences of not acting have a potential for downstream catastrophe?

      It appears to me the very same folk who make a big deal about leaving a terrible financial world to their kids – don’t give a rat’s behind of similar threats from climate change. They’re not “skeptics” on boomergeddom.. they’re like true believers but on climate – they trust armchair scientists and anti-govt conspiracy-theory zealots to 98% of the real scientists..

  3. re: ” No, science itself is the method, not the conclusion. The conclusion may well turn out to be in error, or ‘bogus,’ simply because the facts were not all known, or the relationships not sufficiently understood. ”

    but you will never have ALL the facts SOON ENOUGH to head off ANY catastrophe! That’s WHY you have science. Even with Hurricanes – there is a “cone of uncertainty”.

    “But what can we safely do, without all the facts? ”

    well – do you not evacuate cities even though we know that scientists regularly do not accurately predict the path and intensity of the hurricane?

    Where are the “skeptics” who will make the argument that scientists have cost us millions of dollars with bogus predictions?

    At what point – do you trust science – enough – to evacuate a city – and then find out the science was wrong and millions of dollars wasted?

    The alternative is sorta like seeing a shadow on an x-ray and the Doc says: “let’s wait a while to see what develops. we don’t want to be burning a lot of dollars chasing something that may not be real or anything we can do about it anyhow”. If that sounds dumb – it’s because it is. We almost NEVER has absolute, incontrovertible truth upon which to proceed. But it seems with climate change – the skeptics are requiring more than 98% of scientists to agree. In fact, some are saying that because there is such strong agreement – it, instead, indicates, that science has gone over to the dark side and that level of agreement is proof of a global conspiracy. I’m not making this up…

    “The problem with global warming hypotheses is that they attribute climate change of a relatively modest sort to mankind’s piddling influence, against a background of natural causes of dramatic climate change which we do not understand.”

    you know – when an entire river like the James – becomes polluted with Kepone or enormous holes open up over the poles or fish become not safe to eat because of mercury -or streams are acidified so nothing lives in them – it’s hard to characterize mankind’s influence and involvement in these issues as – “piddling”.

    We went through this with cigarettes and it took some time but eventually most people ceased to be “skeptics” about the potential harm from smoking but not before a lot of people died unnecessarily because the skeptics could not be convinced…right away. In that case – we had the cigarette industry demeaning and attacking the science and characterizing scientists as charlatans who dislike cigarette companies.

    ” The one thing that’s well demonstrated in the historical record is that the ocean front along what is now the mid-Atlantic coast has, within the past tens of thousands of years, moved from the Fall Line to the edge of the Continental Shelf and back again, multiple times, responding to changes in ocean level of roughly +/- 300 feet from what we see today. That’s far too swift a change to blame on tectonic forces; that was almost all climate-driven. Yet today we are pondering whether unilaterally to cripple our economy in order to lead the way among the world’s nations to preventing a potential rise in sea level of 1 to 2 feet”

    that one or two feet – we already know – IS catastrophic when it’s teamed up with storm surges – and more frequent storms with surges – that are already destroying infrastructure like US 12 on the Outer Banks and subways tunnels in New Jersey. Hurricane Sandy did not do a Katrina on New Jersey – it just brought the ocean in to places it had not been – for centuries.

    The NOAA forecasts (done by scientists by the way) – NOW INCLUDE besides the Cat level – the anticipated storm surge … using FEMA flood maps.

    and our response? We argue with FEMA about flood maps because it screws up our flood insurance subsidies… and people cannot rebuild their destroyed homes where it just flooded! This is not “imaginary” damage – by the way – it’s pretty factual. people lost their houses and cannot rebuild them so the property has lost value also. It’s costing 50,000 dollars to put a house worth 100K on stilts and that’s a computable direct economic loss..

    How many more Sandy’s will it take – before more come off their skepticism? Will the next storm to the Outer Banks destroy so much infrastructure that NCDOT will announce they cannot fix it without an immediate infusion of 4, 5, 10 billion more in highway funds and even then the properties will have become worthless because despite the denial of the flood maps – the properties went under water?

    But here’s a question for you.

    If you’re worried about the “cost” – which I do not discount as a valid concern – then when we allow the govt to at least go inventory the areas that could be affected and put a price tag on them if they are lost?

    it seems to me – we’re not only in denial – we actually do NOT want FACTS for fear they will contradict our skepticism AND reveal huge unfunded liabilities. When we won’t draw flood maps and we won’t tally up the potential cost of infrastructure lost to flooding – at the same time we claim we don’t have enough facts to decide what to do – what does that mean?

    sometimes I do wonder about the human race …we can’t make decisions without facts but any efforts to actually provide facts will be strenuously disputed and rebutted.

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