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Skeptic finds he now agrees global warming is real

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Published : Oct. 31, 2011 - 10:48

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- A prominent physicist and skeptic of global warming spent two years trying to find out if mainstream climate scientists were wrong. In the end, he determined they were right: Temperatures really are rising rapidly.

The study of the world's surface temperatures by Richard Muller was partially bankrolled by a foundation connected to global warming deniers. He pursued long-held skeptic theories in analyzing the data. He was spurred to action because of “Climategate,” a British scandal involving hacked emails of scientists.

Yet he found that the land is 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than in the 1950s. Those numbers from Muller, who works at the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, match those by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.

He said he went even further back, studying readings from Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. His ultimate finding of a warming world, to be presented at a conference Monday, is no different from what mainstream climate scientists have been saying for decades.

What's different, and why everyone from opinion columnists to cable TV 's satirical”The Daily Show” is paying attention is who is behind the study.

One-quarter of the $600,000 to do the research came from the Charles Koch Foundation, whose founder is a major funder of skeptic groups and the conservative tea party movement. The Koch brothers, Charles and David, run a large privately held company involved in oil and other industries, producing sizable greenhouse gas emissions.

Muller's research team carefully examined two chief criticisms by skeptics. One is that weather stations are unreliable; the other is that cities, which create heat islands, were skewing the temperature analysis.

“The skeptics raised valid points and everybody should have been a skeptic two years ago,” Muller said in a telephone interview. “And now we have confidence that the temperature rise that had previously been reported had been done without bias.”

Muller said that he came into the study “with a proper skepticism,” something scientists “should always have. I was somewhat bothered by the fact that there was not enough skepticism” before.

There is no reason now to be a skeptic about steadily increasing temperatures, Muller wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal's editorial pages, a place friendly to climate change skeptics. Muller did not address in his research the cause of global warming. The overwhelming majority of climate scientists say it's man-made from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil. Nor did his study look at ocean warming, future warming and how much of a threat to mankind climate change might be.

Still, Muller said it makes sense to reduce the carbon dioxide created by fossil fuels.

“Greenhouse gases could have a disastrous impact on the world,” he said. Still, he contends that threat is not as proven as the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says it is.

On Monday, Muller was taking his results -- four separate papers that are not yet published or peer-reviewed, but will be, he says -- to a conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, expected to include many prominent skeptics as well as mainstream scientists.

“Of course he'll be welcome,” said Petr Chylek of Los Alamos National Lab, a noted skeptic and the conference organizer. “The purpose of our conference is to bring people with different views on climate together, so they can talk and clarify things.”

Shawn Lawrence Otto, author of the book “Fool Me Twice” that criticizes science skeptics, said Muller should expect to be harshly treated by global warming deniers. “Now he's considered a traitor. For the skeptic community, this isn't about data or fact. It's about team sports. He's been traded to the Indians. He's playing for the wrong team now.”

And that started on Sunday, when a British newspaper said one of Muller's co-authors, Georgia Tech climate scientist Judith Curry, accused Muller of another Climategate-like scandal and trying to “hide the decline” of recent global temperatures.

The Associated Press contacted Curry on Sunday afternoon and she said in an email that Muller and colleagues “are not hiding any data or otherwise engaging in any scientifically questionable practice.”

The Muller “results unambiguously show an increase in surface temperature since 1960,” Curry wrote Sunday. She said she disagreed with Muller's public relations efforts and some public comments from Muller about there no longer being a need for skepticism.

Muller's study found that skeptics' concerns about poor weather station quality didn't skew the results of his analysis because temperature increases rose similarly in reliable and unreliable weather stations. He also found that while there is an urban heat island effect making cities warmer, rural areas, which are more abundant, are warming, too.

Among many climate scientists, the reaction was somewhat of a yawn.

“After lots of work he found exactly what was already known and accepted in the climate community,” said Jerry North, a Texas A&M University atmospheric sciences professor who headed a National Academy of Sciences climate science review in 2006. “I am hoping their study will have a positive impact. But some folks will never change.”

Chris Field, a Carnegie Institution scientist who is chief author of an upcoming intergovernmental climate change report, said Muller's study “may help the world's citizens focus less on whether climate change is real and more on smart options for addressing it.”

Some of the most noted scientific skeptics are no longer saying the world isn't warming. Instead, they question how much of it is man-made, view it as less a threat and argue it's too expensive to do something about, Otto said.

Skeptical MIT scientist Richard Lindzen said it is a fact and nothing new that global average temperatures have been rising since 1950, as Muller shows. “It's hard to see how any serious scientist (skeptical, denier or believer -- frequently depending on the exact question) will view it otherwise,” he wrote in an email.

In a brief email statement, the Koch Foundation noted that Muller's team didn't examine ocean temperature or the cause of warming and said it will continue to fund such research. “The project is ongoing and entering peer review, and we're proud to support this strong, transparent research,” said foundation spokeswoman Tonya Mullins.

 

 

<한글 기사>

美저명 물리학자, 지구온난화 소신바꿔

지구 온난화 현상에 동의하지 않고 회의적 입장을 보여온 미국의 저명한 물리학교수가 2년여의 연구 끝에 지구온도가 급속히 상승하고 있다는 점에 동의하고 나서 눈길을 끌고 있다.

지구온난화에 관한 소신을 바꾼 과학자는 미국 캘리포니아주립대(버클리) 물리학 교수이자 버락 오바마 미 행정부의 고위 과학고문을 지낸 리처드 뮬러 박사.

뮬러 박사는 세계 지표면 온도에 관한 연구에서 세계 온도가 1950년대에 비해 화씨 1.6도(섭씨 1도) 상승했다는 점을 밝혀냈고 이는 미 국립해양대기청(NOAA) 및 항공우주국(NASA) 연구 결과와도 일치하는 것이다.

뮬러 박사 연구팀은 그동안 지구온난화에 동의하지 않는 회의론자들이 제기해온 두가지 핵심토대인 기상관측소를 신뢰할 수 없고, 열섬현상을 낳는 도시들이 기온측정 분석을 왜곡한다는 점을 집중 분석해 이같은 결론에 도달했다.

연구팀은 기상관측소의 우수성과 상관없이 기온이 상승하고 있으며, 도시의 온난화를 초래하는 열섬현상이 존재하지만 시골지역에서도 역시 기온이 상승한다는 점 을 밝혀내 지구온난화 회의론자들의 주장이 틀렸음을 밝혀냈다.

뮬러 박사는 "온난화 회의론자들은 나름대로 타당한 지적을 해왔으며, 2년 전까 지만 해도 일리가 있었다"면서 "그러나 기온이 상승하고 있다는 이전의 연구 보고들 도 아무런 편견 없이 이뤄진 것이란 점을 알게 됐다"고 말했다.

뮬러 박사의 연구결과가 특별히 눈길을 끄는 이유는 60만달러의 연구자금 가운데 25%가 미국 갑부 순위 5위에 오른 에너지 대기업 코치 인더스트리스의 창립자인 찰스 코치가 운영하는 찰스 코치 재단에서 나왔기 때문.

코치 가문의 찰스 코치와 데이비드 코치 형제는 대량의 온실가스를 유출시키는 석유회사 등을 소유하고 있어 지구온난화에 비판적인 연구자들에게 집중적으로 자금 을 지원하고 있다. 또 티파티 등 보수단체에 대한 거액 후원으로 유명하다.

이에 대해 코치 재단측은 뮬러팀의 연구가 해수온도와 온난화를 초래하는 원인에 대해서는 조사를 하지 않았다고 지적한 뒤 그러나 관련 연구에 대한 지원은 앞으로도 계속될 것이라고 말했다.

뮬러 박사는 최근 지구온난화 회의론자들에게 우호적인 월스트리트저널(WSJ)에 기고한 글에서 지구 온도가 꾸준하게 상승하고 있다는 점에 회의적일 이유가 없다고 주장했고, 화석연료로 인해 나오는 이산화탄소를 줄일 필요가 있다는 점도 강조하고 있다.

리처드 뮬러 박사의 연구결과는 31일(현지시간) 뉴멕시코주 산타페에서 열리는 학술회의에서 발표될 예정이어서 지구 온난화 찬성론자는 물론 비판론자들의 철저한 검증과 논의를 유발하는 계기가 될 전망이다.

지구온난화 회의론자들을 비판해온 숀 로런스는 "회의론자들은 데이터나 사실에 입각하기보다는 집단 스포츠처럼 행동하는 만큼 뮬러 박사를 배신자 취급을 할 것"

이라며 이번 회의에서 격렬한 비판이 제기될 가능성이 있다고 전망했다.

카네기 연구소의 크리스 필드는 뮬러 박사의 '전향'으로 이제 기후변화가 실제 하는지보다는 기후변화에 어떻게 대처해야 할 지로 관심의 초점이 모아질 것이라고 예상했다.

지구온난화에 비판적인 과학자 중 일부도 이미 지구 기온이 상승하고 있다는 점 을 부인하지 않고 대신 온난화의 원인 중 어느 정도가 인간 탓인지에 관심을 보이고 있고, 온난화가 덜 위협적인 현상이라는 주장을 펴고 있다.