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Scientists lash out at solar theories on clim -

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Scientists lash out at solar theories on climate change

The World Today - Monday, 8 June , 2009 12:10:00

Reporter: Emily Bourke

PETER CAVE: The Family First Senator Stephen Fielding is under fire from the scientific community
over his newfound belief that solar flares not human activity might be responsible for climate

Fresh back from a study tour of climate change in America, Senator Fielding says he's now doubting
the science on the links between global warming and carbon emissions.

Climate scientists here say Senator Fielding has been misinformed by American climate change
deniers, and revisiting the solar flare theory is a wasting valuable time.

Emily Bourke reports.

EMILY BOURKE: Just back from his fact-finding mission to the United States, the Family First
Senator has a whole new take on climate change and its causes.

Where once he was convinced about the effect of greenhouse gases from human activity, now Stephen
Fielding isn't so sure.

STEVE FIELDING: Is carbon emissions really the major driving force of global temperature change?

And what I heard at the conference was that solar activity seems to be more closely aligned to
global temperature changes over a long period of time.

EMILY BOURKE: He says he's open minded, but he believes the science on solar activity is
compelling, and he'll be taking it up with the Climate Change Minister Penny Wong this week when
they meet for talks on the Government's carbon pollution reduction scheme bill.

STEVE FIELDING: Well, I intend to take some of the graphs and the charts that I've actually got
from Tuesday, and ask her to explain why what they've put forward isn't credible. And you know, I
think that's fair enough. I think to question things is a positive thing.

And the big question that I've got: what happens if what they're saying is true, and we're actually
going to actually be addressing climate change with reducing carbon emissions; in effect, that may
not do what we want it to do.

GRAEME PEARMAN: The solar flare debate has been around for an enormous amount of time. Senator
Fielding might have just learnt about it, but in fact the science community has been aware of it
for many years.

EMILY BOURKE: Graeme Pearman is formerly the chief of atmospheric research at the CSIRO.

GRAEME PEARMAN: The changes of output of the sun are well and truly documented. We've been
observing this for over a hundred years.

We understand that there was probably some warming earlier last century due to changes of emissions
from the sun, but no evidence that the recent warming is due to that.

And therefore there's no anticipation that that will be a major factor through this century.

EMILY BOURKE: One proponent of the solar flare theory is Phil Chapman - an Australian-born
geophysicist and former NASA astronaut scientist.

PHIL CHAPMAN: The sun is extremely quiet. There are very few spots, much less than we expect. And
the implication is that if this continues, we're going to see worldwide cooling rather than

The theory is that when the sun is not active, its magnetic field shrinks. And that means that more
cosmic rays get through to the earth from out in the galaxy. And the cosmic rays, when they stop in
the atmosphere, tend to produce clouds, and the clouds reflect sunlight back into space.

So when you have fewer sunspots you have more clouds and therefore cooler weather.

EMILY BOURKE: And he's warning against policies to reduce carbon emissions.

PHIL CHAPMAN: The fact is that everyone who's looked at the data recognises that the climate has
simply not been warming since 2002.

Whether that's going to continue, nobody can tell, but until we do know it is really foolish to
start spending money.

EMILY BOURKE: But Dr Pearman says the theories about the climate cooling down in recent years are
not to be taken seriously.

GRAEME PEARMAN: I mean, it's absolutely rubbish. What that is referring to the fact is that last
year's temperature was cooler than it was 10 years ago.

The year to year variation of the planetary mean temperature is the order of about two or three
tenths of a degree, and the trend that we've seen over the last hundred years is only one tenth of
a degree per decade.

So, if you only look at one ten-year period, you're never going to be able to see the trend. You
have to have a longer period of observations.

EMILY BOURKE: David Karoly is a professor of meteorology at the University of Melbourne.

He says the source of Senator Fielding's newfound knowledge - the American Heartland Institute -
deserves closer inspection.

DAVID KAROLY: It is very surprising that he doesn't accept the best information from scientific
assessments, such as those by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the US National
Academy of Science, or the Australian Academy of Science, or the Royal Society, but seeks to get
his information from a group of climate change deniers, an organisation that's receiving sufficient
funding from the fossil fuel industry.

That he seeks to accept their scientific misinformation more than he accepts peer-reviewed
scientific publications.

EMILY BOURKE: While there might be some doubts over the causes of climate change, Dr Graeme Pearman
is more concerned that revisiting the solar theory is wasting valuable time.

GRAEME PEARMAN: We really don't have time to wait - we have to get on with it. That doesn't really
mean that we're absolutely sure about everything that is projected in climate change.

There will be uncertainties always, but the potential magnitude of the change, and the high
probability that that change will occur, means we simply have to stand up and manage that risk
through both adapting to it and reducing our emissions.

PETER CAVE: Graeme Pearman, the former chief of atmospheric research at the CSIRO, ending Emily
Bourke's report.