Belmont Club

Swapping the Earth and the Sky

Global warming has slowed down because of pollution from Asia, according to a new study. “It has been unclear why global surface temperatures did not rise between 1998 and 2008,” despite the fact that manmade emissions from fossil-fuel derived carbon dioxide grew by a third. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States believes the reason is that it was offset by other pollutants.

World temperatures did not rise from 1998 to 2008, while manmade emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuel grew by nearly a third, various data show.

The researchers from Boston and Harvard Universities and Finland’s University of Turku said pollution, and specifically sulphur emissions, from coal-fueled growth in Asia was responsible for the cooling effect.

Sulphur allows water drops or aerosols to form, creating hazy clouds which reflect sunlight back into space.

“Anthropogenic activities that warm and cool the planet largely cancel after 1998, which allows natural variables to play a more significant role,” the paper said.

Natural cooling effects included a declining solar cycle after 2002, meaning the sun’s output fell.

The study said that the halt in warming had fueled doubts about anthropogenic climate change, where scientists say manmade greenhouse gas emissions are heating the Earth.

All the same global warming remains a threat to mankind. “Long term warming will continue unless emissions are reduced,” said Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring at Britain’s Met Office. Surely not the sulphur emissions. We need more of those. The addition of the sulphur term to the AGW model recalls the problems associated with maintaining a geocentric view of astronomy. Geocentrism was once the established scientific consensus.

From Plato’s time on, practically no one doubted the geocentric model itself, whatever its precise fit with observational data. As Aristotle showed in greater detail in his On the Heavens, reason and common experience confirmed it. Philosophers, poets, Church Fathers, educators, and encyclopedists all spoke of the universe much as Plato had described it, embellishing his picture on occasion with the nomenclature and simpler mathematical features of technical astronomy as it was developing.

Using geometry, the astronomers of the period built on the geocentric principle and from it derived a model or simulation of how the heavens should look.

The theory began with the model of the sun’s motion… The sun moves uniformly in the plane of the ecliptic along the circumference of a circle of which the center is displaced from the center of the world along the apsidal line joining apogee and perigee (the points of slowest and fastest motion, called here the aux and oppositio augis respectively). The two centers of reference give rise to two measures of the sun’s motus, or longitude along the ecliptic from the conventional starting point of 0 degrees Arietis (vernal equinox). The mean motus about the center of the eccentric increases uniformly at a rate fixed by dividing 360 degrees by the length in days of the solar year. The true motus about the earth differs from the mean by an amount called the “equation of the sun”, which varies over the year as a function of the mean motus and which depends as well on the eccentricity (the distance e between the two centers) and on the longitude of the apsidal line. Values for the mean motus and the equation were contained in the astronomical tables, and their sum (or at times difference) gave the true motus.

The moon and planets required much more intricate arrangements, fundamental to which was the epicycle. The body was taken to move on a small circle, the epicycle, the center of which itself moved on a circle, the deferent, around the center of the world. In most cases the deferent was an eccentric circle like that of the sun. In the case of the moon, the eccentric deferent itself constituted a large epicycle turning on a smaller deferent centered on the earth. From a starting position of conjunction with the sun, the center of the deferent revolved from east to west at about 11 degrees a day, the center of the epicycle from west to east at about 13 degrees a day (with respect to the earth), and the moon on the epicycle in the same direction as the deferent at about 24 degrees a day. (As a result of the first two motions, the mean sun always lay midway between the center of the moon’s epicycle and the apogee of its deferent.)

The model worked reasonably well. “In notes bound with his copy of the Alfonsine Tables, Copernicus commented that ‘Mars surpasses the numbers by more than two degrees. Saturn is surpassed by the numbers by one and a half degrees.’ … Copernicus and his contemporaries were therefore using Ptolemy’s methods and finding them trustworthy well over a thousand years after Ptolemy’s original work was published.”

It was not until later that the alternative heliocentric method was shown to produce better results on simpler assumptions than the Ptolemaic that it was replaced. Much of the resistance to changing the Ptolemaic model arose from social, rather than scientific reasons. Institutions were invested in the geocentric model. Schools, governments and the Church hierarchy, not to mentioned venerated authorities such as Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, had all believed the geocentric model to be true. Challenging that view meant the new theory would mean they were wrong; heliocentrism assumed the aspect of rebellion and could not simply be just another astronomical theory.

The huge social investment in AGW by the UN, activists groups and national bureaucrats, not to mention the vast sums of money predicated on “Green Energy” has created a similar effect. To suggest that AGW is in fact false, which would ordinarily be an ordinary part of the scientific method of inquiry, has been transformed into an act of blasphemy. Those who reject AGW are in fact called “climate deniers” whereas re-examining theories is supposed to be the staple of experimental science.  Yet despite its sacred status, AGW has so far proved far less impressive than the Ptolemaic system. If the AGW model could predict temperatures at anywhere near the accuracy of Ptolemy’s methods it would be hailed as scientific bedrock.

But as the NAS study showed, it cannot. It is principally good at getting things dead wrong.  Now the AGW proponents have no alternative but to salvage their system by adding more terms to the model. Not in order to improve its predictions, but to explain why the results were 180 degrees in the opposite direction. Yet the question must be asked: is the premise wrong to start with? Billions of dollars have been invested in the service of a theory which is looking less and less like “established science” and more and more like Wrong Way Corrigan.

It is way past the time to demote AGW to the level of ordinary science. It should be treated as a hypothesis like any other. It should be shorn of its established status as the official doctrine of the UN, the EU and Greenpeace.  And it should do so for its own good. The creation of official or quasi-religious doctrines has always had a stultifying effect on inquiry.  Something like AGW is a clear and present intellectual danger, not only to the scientific method in general, but even to itself. It cannot hope to arrive at the truth for so long as it is infested with sacred cows and unquestionable dictums and founded on questionable data.


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