The life of a global warming sceptic is a dangerous one, it seems. Well-known sceptic John Daly died suddenly of a heart attack earlier this year, and now one of his frequently-published colleagues (on the Daly website at least) Theodor Landscheidt has also shuffled off a few days ago (on 19 May) to meet the Great Global Climate Controller. Mind you, Landscheidt was 76 years old according to this bio page and had been suffering a “long illness” (which usually means cancer – why don’t they just say so?), so it probably wasn’t all that much of a surprise to his friends and family.
Landscheidt may well have been a scientific ratbag, but he was an interesting ratbag. Like Daly, he wasn’t formally qualified in any scientific discipline, but developed a prodigious practical knowledge in his chosen area of specialisation, which was long-range weather forecasting based on observation and analysis of the sunspot cycle and other solar phenomena.
Landscheidt reckoned that the El Nino/La Nina (ENSO) cycle could be predicted years in advance by plotting sunspot cycles and other phenomena, and had quite a bit of demonstrable success in that regard. More controversially, he reckoned that current global warming is a result of a “phase shift” (whatever that means) in the 36 year sunspot cycle, rather than flowing from increases in atmospheric CO2. His latest paper on the Daly website (posted 22 December 2003) gives a fairly detailed and readable summary of his theories.
The general outline of Landscheidt’s theory may be quite familiar to many older Australians, because it appears to be quite similar to the theories of well-known Australian long-range weather forecasters Inigo Jones and Lennox Walker. As one commentator remarked about Jones and Walker:
A weather forecaster popular with farmers in eastern Australia was Lennox Walker of Crohamhurst in southern Queensland. He reckoned to give 2-5 day forecasts each Friday night in a Sydney newspaper in the 1970’s, for instance, stating the occurrence of rain and the daily maximum temperature. His success appears never to have been demonstrated in any publicly available scientific report, but his supporters were undeterred. Nor were they worried by the secrecy of his methods, reputedly based on a belief in the cyclic influences of sunspots and the planets, e.g. Jupiter. The procedures, whatever they were, were handed down to Lennox by Inigo Jones. The latter was in charge at Crohamhurst until 1954, and a disciple of the famous Clement Wragge. Wragge was head of the Brisbane Meteorological Bureau until 1900 and pioneered hail suppression, although with little success
For those interested, here’s a link to an ABC radio interview a couple of years ago with Lennox Walker’s son (who still carries on his work, although he doesn’t seem to have inherited his dad’s talent for self-promotion).
Like Jones and Walker, Landscheidt was generally regarded by the mainstream scientific community as a crackpot, perhaps partly because of snobbery and credentialism, but also partly because he couldn’t postulate a clear or verifiable basis for the claimed link between sunspots and ENSO.
Actually, I went looking for material on Landscheidt earlier today, not knowing that he’d just died. The spur for my curiosity was a continuing bout of unseasonal rainfall in Darwin. The first month of this year’s dry season has been extraordinarily wet (it rained at my place for a good part of last night and much of the morning). Moreover, most wet seasons over the last 7 or 8 years have yielded well above the long-term average rainfall of about 1600mm. Although it’s obviously too early to be certain, it’s beginning to seem that there’s a marked trend towards wetter (though not hotter) weather in the Top End, at the same time as parts of South-eastern Australia seem to be getting drier and hotter. Could all this be an artefact of global warming, I ask myself? “B” has another explanation, but I won’t go there.
Long-time readers of Troppo Armadillo will know that I’ve always been a moderate global warming sceptic myself. Maybe I’d better go and get a full medical checkup. However, unlike ratbags like the late John Daly, I haven’t denied the reality of human-induced global warming, just questioned its likely magnitude. Interestingly, not long before his recent untimely death, Daly postulated a proposition that arguably allows us (or will soon allow us) to test not only the reality or otherwise of global warming, but to get a rough handle on its magnitude. I blogged about it here, as did John Quiggin here. In summary, Daly argued that the marked global warming of the last 7 or 8 years was caused by the confluence of a Solar Maximum with 2 large El Nino events in 1998 and 2002, and not by human-generated CO2. Daly went on to say that this could be expected to reverse itself over the period 2003-2006 as we moved towards a Solar Minimum and (likely) La Nina. JQ and I both agreed that this presented a real test of the reality of CO2-induced global warming.
What is the result so far? Well, any objective observer could only conclude that there hasn’t been any noticeable cooling at all to date. Have a look at the data for Global Mean Temperature compiled by GISS and kept on the NASA website. They show that average temperatures for the first 4 months of 2004 remained well above the long-term (1951-1980) average of 14 °C, by amounts varying between 0.43 and 0.64 °C. If Daly had been correct (i.e. that CO2-induced warming was a myth), you would have expected average temperatures to have fallen back to well below the long-term average by now, instead of remaining well above it.
Moreover, I think I’m forced to concede that current average temperatures probably aren’t even consistent with my own moderate sceptic position. That is, my own non-expert reading of the data has always tended to lead me to a conclusion that global warming, although real, was much more moderate in extent than alarmist advocates were claiming: probably slightly less than 0.1 °C per decade rather than the 0.17 °C per decade estimated by mainstream global warming advocates. That figure remains broadly consistent with satellite-generated temperature records (except the recent outlier formulation by Vinnikov and Grody). However, the extent to which current surface temperatures (as compiled and averaged by GISS) exceed the long-term average leads me to a tentative conclusion that the extent of global warming is probably significantly higher than 0.1 °C per decade.
What does all that mean? Well, I don’t claim to be an expert, but commonsense precautionary logic rather suggests that warming of that magnitude demands serious (though not panicked) international policy action. I now think we should ratify and seriously implement the Kyoto Protocol without delay (even though it’s only a minimalist first step); and enact carbon taxes and an international carbon credits trading scheme designed to create price signals leading to quicker adoption of non-carbon-based energy sources.
Of course, a side-benefit of my graceful somersault on this issue is that if global warming scepticism really is a health hazard, I’ve just removed the risk for myself in one foul swoop! Indeed, it’s difficult to see how anyone could now rationally maintain a strongly sceptical position on global warming, except perhaps by pinning hopes on something like Theodor Landscheidt’s sunspot “phase shift” theory.