Put-up-or-Shut-up Time for the Sun Spot Theory

Recent sun spot cycles. The last time the sunspot cycle was almost as weak as the current one was in the 1970s, a period of declining global temperatures that prompted widespread concerns of a new ice age. Image credit: sunspotwatch.com

I have frequently expressed skepticism of dire Global Warming scenarios by noting that the increase in global temperatures over the past 20 years fits the lowest range of forecasts made by the climate models. Sorry, folks, I just can’t get exercised about warming-generated calamities, no matter how many after-the-fact justifications are proffered to explain the failure of reality to conform with theory.

On the other side, the anti-Global Warming crowd has advanced an alternative explanation for climate change. The extreme skeptics suggest that solar activity — sun spots, or the lack of them — have a far greater influence on earth’s climate than the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. According to this theory, solar radiation interacts with the earth’s magnetosphere to block cosmic radiation from penetrating to the atmosphere and seeding cloud formation. Boiling the argument down to its essence, more sun spots predict higher temperatures on earth, fewer sun spots predict lower temperatures. We may have reached put-up-or-shut-up time for that theory as well.

The skeptics are getting excited now because the incidence of sun spots is crashing. Indeed, sun spots have almost disappeared. The last time the sun exhibited similar characteristics was in the 1600s, the so-called Maunder Minimum which coincided with a decline in global temperatures known to history as the Little Ice Age. If the solar warming rejectionists are correct, “global warming” could disappear in a hurry.

Writes Robert Zimmerman with the Global Warming Policy Forum:

If the solar minimum has actually arrived now, this would make this cycle only ten years long, one of the shortest solar cycles on record. More important, it is a weak cycle. In the past, all short cycles were active cycles. This is the first time we have seen a short and weak cycle since scientists began tracking the solar cycle in the 1700s, following the last grand minimum in the 1600s when there were almost no sunspots.

If the planet is entering a new solar minimum, the theory would predict falling temperatures. Perhaps not immediately — there may be buffering effects that aren’t well understood — but in not too many years.

Here’s the nice thing about the sun-spot theory: It’s a testable hypothesis. The theory states in no-uncertain terms that solar radiation as measured by sun spots is a key driver of earth’s climate. The theory says that cycles in earth’s temperatures closely match cycles in sun spot activity. We appear to be entering a phase in which sun spots are going dormant. Temperatures should drop — not just for a year or two but in a sustained matter. We should be able to confirm or disprove the sun-spot hypothesis within a few years.

If the sun-spot hypothesis is confirmed by the data and we see a decisive shift in temperature trends, the theory that posits CO2 as the driving climate variable will be dashed. Conversely, if the sun-spot model  is proven incorrect, a lot of moderate Global Warming skeptics (like me) will be more receptive to the CO2 model — although it still has to explain the two-decade-long pause. (“Pause” is not quite the right word. Global temperatures have crept higher. They just haven’t conformed to predictions.)

Perhaps I’m being naive to think that reality will settle the debate. Reality has a way of being frustratingly complex and ambiguous, and zealots are endlessly creative at devising fallback theories. We didn’t account for the effect of increased particulates in the atmosphere. Or temperatures didn’t rise as expected because the missing heat is lurking undetected deep in the ocean. 

The stakes of this scientific debate are huge. Climate change advocates want to de-carbonize the economy in order to fight what they fear is runaway and calamitous global warming. That means converting motor vehicles to electricity, and it means converting electric power generation to renewable sources. Market forces are pushing the electric power industry toward renewables — especially solar here in Virginia — but not rapidly enough to suit the warmists. The next big debate is whether Virginia should join the Global Greenhouse Gas Initiative a cap-and-trade regime to squeeze out electric-power carbon emissions. Ancillary debates are occurring on how Hampton Roads should deal with the rising sea levels expected to accompany the higher temperatures.

Here’s another hypothesis: The urgency of combating global warming is a driving force behind the insistence of the social engineers to restructure the economy. If global temperatures cool, that sense of urgency will diminish. Hard-core believers won’t change their minds, but the general public will. Conversely, if temperatures rise in the face of a new sun spot minimum, the warmists will be vindicated.

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21 responses to “Put-up-or-Shut-up Time for the Sun Spot Theory

  1. Essentially – you’ve got a world of Climate Scientists with their theories and a world of non-scientists with their theories – and we treating them both as if they are equal in competence and credibility.

    If 50 different scientists predict the path of a hurricane – and none of them successfully predict the actual path – then that justifies every Tom, Dick and Harry to become a competing “hurricane predictor”, each with their own “theories” that are just as good as those scientists who also predicted wrong.

    So, heckfire… what the good is science? Right?

  2. Essentially – you’ve got a world of Climate Scientists with their theories and a world of non-scientists with their theories.

    No, essentially you’ve got a world of Climate Scientists with their theories and a world of astrophysicists with their theories.

    • And the climate scientists got a business model and scare tactics to market and sell in return for other peoples’ money. No wonder they claim consensus. What Fuller Brush salesman, or other salesperson, is skeptical of their product. An entire industry depends on consensus. Step out of line and you are shunned, fired, and exiled, your entire career threatened.

  3. No, essentially you’ve got a world of science and a world of wishful thinkers. But let’s not re-visit the climate arguments for and against global warming, which are not going to persuade anyone reading this blog to change their ways.

    Let’s just focus on two sets of costs if global warming occurs as predicted: (1) the costs that will occur in 20 years if the consensus prediction is correct and nothing is done to prepare for it; and (2) ditto if the consensus prediction is correct and we start preparing for it now. [Note: I did NOT say, if we start eliminating the CO2, ONLY, if we start preparing for the predicted rise in temperatures and ocean levels in Virginia based on current predictions of CO2 rise.] You touch on this above: What should Hampton Roads and other tidewater communities do to adjust to a different baseline for recurring street flooding? Should earlier evacuations be made mandatory? What should private insurance underwriting do to adjust loss expectations and rates for flood insurance? What should the State’s role be if FEMA goes bankrupt or ceases to offer flood insurance? What structures should be mandated to protect or harden critical infrastructure (e.g., EMS, hospitals, communications) from flooding? Is entire neighborhood protection (e.g. dikes) feasible at reasonable cost? Should we expand current programs for elevating private homes on piers? What floodable areas are currently zoned for construction that shouldn’t be? What legal process do we follow to terminate existing construction rights in those areas, and how do we commence it and prioritize it? Etc.; etc. In terms of resources including tax dollars and construction manpower, simply bear in mind that every coastal region in the country will be dealing with this simultaneously.

    • re: ” .. What should Hampton Roads and other tidewater communities do to adjust to a different baseline for recurring street flooding? Should earlier evacuations be made mandatory? What should private insurance underwriting do to adjust …….. etc”

      Acbar gets to the heart of the issue. It’s no surprise that the skeptics want little to do with these questions and answering these questions… to do so would mean they would be admitting the impacts…

      As we speak – people are OPPOSED to releasing the latest FEMA flood maps… because of the fiscal implications… they essentially do not want banks and mortgage companies and insurers taking actions based on “predicted” floods…. and storm damages… they want to still use the old maps….

      Beyond that , the whole issue of insurance for flood-prone, storm-prone areas has become a big issue because fiscal Conservatives want FEMA to get out of the insurance business if they are not going to use real-world actuarial data..

  4. re: ” a world of astrophysicists with their theories.”

    I had not heard that most of the world’s Astrophysicists were climate Skeptics… can you further educate on that?

    • I had not heard that most of the world’s Astrophysicists were climate Skeptics.

      As usual, you misquote. I did not say “most of the world’s Astrophysicists.” I was responding to Acbar’s comment by using the same language he employed.

      It would be safer to say “some” astrophysicists.

      • I did not see the word “some” , Jim.

        I saw this:

        ” No, essentially you’ve got a world of Climate Scientists with their theories and a world of astrophysicists with their theories”

        didn’t you say “a world of” ?

        come on guy…. this is silly… word games… and it does
        not speak well of the dialogue…

        Can you give me a link to something that shows astrophysicists being skeptics of GW and openly disagree with Climate Scientists?

  5. Once again Jim Bacon misses the point. Isn’t it obvious that some of the man made CO2 from Earth is floating through space and extinguishing the Sun’s spots? Soon there will be no polar bears on the Sun! What then, Jim? What then?

  6. Sticking to the science, it is true that Earth is receiving, and we are all exposed to, increased comic rays, as per:

    “THE WORSENING COSMIC RAY SITUATION: Cosmic rays are bad–and they’re getting worse. That’s the conclusion of a new paper just published in the research journal Space Weather. The authors, led by Prof. Nathan Schwadron of the University of New Hampshire, show that radiation from deep space is dangerous and intensifying faster than previously predicted.”

    In other words, “pollution” from cosmic rays from deep space is getting worse, for unknown reasons. The reduced solar activity gives us less protection from these cosmic rays.

    So I guess it’s take your pick of the best poison. You can choose:
    Option (a): Reduced solar activity, reduced global warming, and increased cosmic ray pollution, or
    Option (b): Normal solar activity, continuing global warming with less cosmic ray pollution.

    I never heard that the increased cosmic rays causes more clouds, but a cooler Sun period should reduce global warming.

  7. Pingback: Put-Up-Or-Shut-Up Time For The Solar-Climate Theory | The Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF)

  8. re: ” In other words, “pollution” from cosmic rays from deep space is getting worse, for unknown reasons. The reduced solar activity gives us less protection from these cosmic rays.”

    nope.

    Pollution is man-made and controllable and different from natural processes which are not.

    The issue is – are we generating emissions that are adversely affecting health of the planet that we all depend on for life – and is there something we can do about it?

    This is not a new thing. Over and over through recent decades, we have damaged the environment.. argued about it, then decided we could and should not engage in activities that damage the environment and in turn threaten human life.

    We recognized hundreds, thousands of man-created pollutants that we did then decide to reduce or eliminate – up to and including CFSs for ozone holes.

    Then something changed when the very same scientists who had warned about Ozone Holes – warned of an even bigger threat from CO2. Whereas few except fringe folks doubted the science of CFCs and the need to change – far more doubted the CO2 climate science – and that’s when Scientist who used to be believed before were then accused of essentially colluding in a grand worldwide conspiracy to lie to citizens and non-scientists without any real background began questioning the data and the scientists who created that data.

    We’ve been down that path before with cigarettes where, right now, every state is receiving an indemnity fund that is a direct result of the cigarette companies found guilty in court of engaging
    in a campaign of attacks on the legitimacy of science and scientists with regard to harm from the smoke from cigarettes.

    Some people believed the Cigarette makers back then.. some still believe the scientists “cooked” that data and cigarettes are not that bad for you.. .i.e. they know folks who have smoked “all their lives”, etc.

    That same time of campaign was re-started by companies engaged in the production of fossil-fuels – and it took hold and was and is successful in generating a lot of doubt with ardent skeptics of Climate Science and Climate Scientists

    … and now … we hear that “other” scientists are also doubters of Climate Science and scientists… so I am very much curious to know if it is a significant number of them or whether it is – around the same 2% of all other scientists who doubt GW.

    I’m from the group who says ” safe rather than sorry”.

    we don’t truly know with 100% clarity. We almost NEVER DO. We did not know that with Ozone Holes. We don’t even know it with ordinary hurricanes…. modelling nature is not at all an exact science. But until this point – when a very large percentage of scientists AGREED that there was/is potential for calamity – we have generally believed them and have taken at least some actions in response – as opposed to totally disbelieving them and accusing them of engaging in a worldwide conspiracy to lie to us.

    • ” In other words, “pollution” from cosmic rays from deep space is getting worse, for unknown reasons.

      A total bastardization of the argument. Try understanding the argument before re-stating it inaccurately in order to knock it down.

    • The chemists that warned of CFC’s potential to destroy the ozone layer won the Nobel Prize. They were talking about the danger of an exotic and presistant man-made chemical to our planet’s atmosphere.

      Those scientists made no claims that the climate change (CO2) problem is exactly the same as the ozone problem. Larry G. made that up.

      Here is Larry’s logic:
      CFC’s destroy Ozone
      therefore:
      CO2 destroys planet – case closed

  9. As I wrote earlier, I support the use of renewable energy and taking care about anything we emit into the atmosphere, including CO2. But we don’t have a clue about what is the normal temperature or the normal sea level. Moreover, in many locations, we’ve drained or otherwise altered water-covered areas bordering the ocean or nearby waters. A study was done after Hurricane Sandy showing that the bulk of the areas flooded by Sandy in NYC had earlier been reclaimed from the ocean. We’ve built many, many expensive homes and other buildings on barrier islands.

    All of these factors need to be considered before we start transferring wealth from many to fewer, with a slice off the top to the professional climate industry. How much income and wealth should we transfer to protect Palm Beach, FL?

    • I could not agree more. We got half our population being left behind, going down the tube. Let focus on real people, helping them in real ways, instead of making them victims, or throwing money away on the slots, or playing God.

  10. Burning the rotted remains of primordial ooze is a pretty barbaric way to generate power. Whether you believe in global warming or not (and I do believe) you have to recognize the noxious air pollution caused by burning coal, oil and to a lesser degree gas. This pollution causes respiratory problems, creates acid rain and generally wreaks havoc on our environment. It seems to me that the alternative energy revolution is right on the precipice of critical mass. Solar, wind and hydro power, electric cars … I feel like we’re 10 years away from being done with the worst aspects of the fossil fuel based economy. Put aside global warming. Burning coal for electricity and oil for cars is filthy even without the global warming implications. You know that’s true, I know that’s true, everybody knows that’s true. It’s time to move on.

    The mistake is to make this some kind of globalist, new world order mega-crusade. Tax energy based on the amount of pollution it creates. Lower other forms of taxation (like sales taxes) to hold the total tax burden level. Guess what? There will be a sudden proliferation of hydro, solar and wind generated energy and a newfound fascination with battery technology. I’ll finally get around to setting those computerized thermostats I bought some years back.

    I think people would be amazed how much progress would be made with simple ideas rather than some Obama-esque global, thermal treaty ideas.

    Why doesn’t Virginia lead? Lower the sales tax and raise the pollution tax. We really don’t want to discourage people from buying things while we really do want to discourage people from polluting. Time to get the tax law lined up with societal benefits.

    Imagine how much progress Virginia would make if it led the alternative energy revolution instead of being brought to that transformation kicking and screaming.

  11. Excellent idea DJR. Simple solutions with profound effects are often the best choice.

    I don’t know the details, but this is basically what the RGGI coalition does. It taxes the utility CO2 emissions and uses that money to fund energy efficiency and renewables. Emissions are lower, energy use is lower, and it has saved customers $2.3 billion in energy costs over the past seven years. Virginia is headed towards higher emissions and higher energy costs under the latest energy bill.

    Virginia has elected not to join the coalition the past two years. But we still have the governor’s executive order to control emissions in Virginia. Perhaps we could develop some simple solutions along the lines that you suggest.

    We should not gloss over Acbar’s points. Whatever the beliefs about the causes global warming, sea levels are rising and are expected to continue for the remainder of this century. Not only is sea level rising in southeast Virginia, but the land is subsiding. We will have our own Venice soon if something is not done. That region will not be able to afford to solve the problem on its own, so the rest of Virginia will be asked to chip in.

    The acidification of the oceans, desalinization from ice shelf calving and other factors are altering ocean currents. The U.K. and northern Europe depend on the reliable effects of the Gulf Stream. Those countries are at more northern latitudes than most people are aware. Without the warming and moderating effects of the Gulf Stream, East Coast states and our European friends could be faced with much more chaotic weather conditions. This has a huge impact on agriculture and other economic segments. We need to follow Acbar’s advice. We can begin to address what needs to be done while we also improve our understanding of the causes.

    In geological time, the oceans have been hundreds of feet lower than now. With our current high water levels, increasingly severe storm surges can cause billions of dollars in damages. This will cost us all as Virginians and U.S. citizens if we don’t stop arguing and start collaborating on solutions. We don’t have to have all the data to take effective action that will be useful in a variety of scenarios.

    • Taking action to mitigate the expected effects of a rising sea level (or a declining one, for that matter) makes some sense. We should not, however, spend more than the expected cost of damage; acknowledge we are arbitrarily selecting a particular sea level as “normal,” thus, picking winners and losers; and consider very strongly about disallowing many new uses of land expected to flood or just be under water. It’s one thing to expect taxpayers to pay for hardening the U.S. Navy Base at Norfolk. But it’s another thing to expect taxpayers/utility ratepayers to fund protection for luxury condos built on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay or on a barrier island. As Larry has noted so many times, why do we allow construction in areas that we know are susceptible to flooding or likely to be under water.

      As far as artificially increasing the price of energy through tax increases, by reducing disposable income, the carbon tax makes it less likely people can afford energy savings changes to their homes, businesses and vehicles.

      What would happen, IMO, is that we’ll have the tax increases, some significant improvements in energy efficiency, lower disposable income, diversion of energy tax revenues from intended conservation programs and continued building in areas subject to being under water. The chief result will be a government-sponsored transfer of wealth from many to the few who own waterfront properties.

      As to why I believe the government will divert funds, just look at fees for 911 services. The government allows/imposes surcharges on telecom bills to fund the operation of 911 emergency calling services, including Public Safety Answering Points. This is an important function and something worthy of tax support. But states, including for example, Rhode Island, divert 911 tax funding to other programs. The result has been longer wait times for an answer to a 911 call; delayed response time by police, fire and EMTs; worker fatigue; and failure to update equipment. If governments will put public safety at risk, why should anyone trust it to do the right thing with the regulation of individual energy usage?

  12. Being a sceptic is one thing. Ignoring a model that is substantially supported by the evidence is closing one’s eyes and hoping the danger will go away.

    No one can definitively say that climate change is caused by human activity and is a threat to significant portions of our country and the world. Maybe climate change is just part of an eternal cycle of heating and cooling. But what if the scientists are correct.

    In any case, with the arctic ice caps disappearing, it’s fair to say something is going on.

    Rational risk management simply requires us to take seriously the possibility that the hypothesis offered by virtually all climate scientists is correct.

    Taking steps that are consistent with the range of possible outcomes and their likelihood (standard expected value) is good risk management. And we find that some steps are already being taken without significant restructuring of our economy by social engineers.

    Here’s another hypothesis: Climate change deniers are typically on the Right, because to admit climate change is to admit that the Market is not God, and that the Market Allocation of goods and services is not Divinely inspired, or even necessarily the most economically efficient. To admit climate change is to admit that Government has a significant role to play in the economy, which, of course, is heresy.

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