James Hansen Was Wrong About Global Warming

E. Calvin Beisner | Founder, The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation

In 1988, James Hansen confidently predicted that the world would be about 1 degree Celsius warmer today than it was then.

Actually, he offered three scenarios. A: “business as usual” with rapidly rising carbon dioxide emissions, which would bring that 1-degree increase. B: “most plausible” with emissions remaining constant at 1988 levels, which would make the world 0.7 degrees warmer today. C: emissions rising from 1988 to 2000 and then stabilizing would make the world about 0.3 degrees warmer today — an outcome he said was highly unlikely.

By and large, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has embraced Hansen’s scenarios.

So how did Hansen, the high priest of global warming fears, and his acolytes do?

The world today is 0.3 degrees warmer, on average, than when Hansen set forth his scenarios. In short, for temperature, scenario C — the one he deemed least likely — has occurred.

But it didn’t occur because CO2 emissions flattened in 2000. No, they kept right on rising. So the condition he said was necessary for the temperature part of scenario C didn’t occur; instead, what continued to occur was pretty much the condition he said would bring on the temperature part of scenario A.

From that, it follows that Hansen’s understanding of what drives global average temperature was — and remains to be — wrong. He thinks carbon dioxide is the temperature control knob for the atmosphere.

From the start, that idea should have struck anyone with even a modicum of common sense as nonsense.

Carbon dioxide constitutes 4 hundredths of 1 percent of the atmosphere. That by itself makes it a pretty diminutive player. But there’s much more to the story.

The atmosphere constitutes only a small part of the global climate system, which includes the hydrosphere (oceans, seas, lakes, rivers, and streams), the cryosphere (continental ice sheets, glaciers, and sea ice), the upper lithosphere (the top few feet of land), and the biosphere (terrestrial and aquatic plants and animals) — not to mention solar energy from the Sun, cosmic rays that affect cloudiness, and volcanoes.

The oceans alone weigh nearly 273 times as much of the atmosphere. So atmospheric carbon dioxide, which Hansen insists is the temperature control knob, constitutes about 0.00015 percent (15 ten-millionths) of the combined atmosphere and oceans. At this point, we can forget about the cryosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is clearly a teeny tiny fraction of a teeny tiny bit player in Earth’s climate system. (The numbers here are ballpark figures, tainted in part by the mixing of weight, mass, and parts per million, but they adequately convey a sense of proportion.)

To theorize that 15 ten-millionths of an overall system will control the temperature of that interrelated system, or of any large part of it, is prima facie nonsense. What should surprise us is not that the idea has turned out wrong, but that anyone embraced it in the first place and that it’s taking so long for so many people, including many highly intelligent scientists, to abandon it in the face of the clear empirical evidence of its falsehood.

Patrick Michaels and Ryan Maue dismantle Hansen further in their column in The Wall Street Journal’s June 22 publication. It’s worth a careful read. Cornwall Alliance authors developed the argument above more fully, and in the context of the Biblical worldview that a wise God designed the climate system, in the 2010 paper “A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Examination of the Theology, Science, and Economics of Global Warming.”

E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., is Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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