Physicist Richard Muller has challenged the science behind years of climate studies. Through his own analyses, he has now come to agree with many of the conclusions about global warming, but his views on the topic remain controversial. Following Muller’s June 21 interview at Climate One, Penn State University professor Michael E. Mann wrote a rebuttal to many of Muller’s claims.
Richard Muller, professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and founder and scientific director of Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST), started his career in particle physics, moved into astrophysics, got into cosmology, became fascinated with what killed the dinosaurs, and from there began work on other natural disasters. “I think I have somewhat of a reputation of working on one disaster after another,” he said.
Muller spent some years researching the cycles of the ice ages, and in presenting his results, he found that audiences were interested mainly in global warming. He turned his research in that direction. When the so-called “Climategate” scandal broke, Muller stated, “I was horrified to learn how these plots had been manipulated and changed with the goal of convincing the public that the conclusions they were drawing should be clear and incontrovertible.”
In particular, in reference to climatologist Michael E. Mann’s “hockey stick” plot, showing 1000 years of temperatures, Muller said, “What was compelling about what he [Mann] had done was that he had argued that the signal went back a thousand years—that was shown invalid by the National Academy [of Sciences] study—and that it was evident in a wide range of world data. In fact, what had been discovered was that the hockey stick was derived almost entirely from a few tree ring data sets from North America.”
In response to this and related statements by Muller, Mann wrote in a Climate One Guest Post, “The [NAS] report concluded that ‘based on the analyses presented in the original papers by Mann et al. and this newer supporting evidence, the committee finds it plausible that the Northern Hemisphere was warmer during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period over the preceding millennium.’”
In conducting his own studies, what are Muller’s conclusions? “That the global warming of the past 50 years was very close to what the prior groups had claimed it was. On this issue they were right.” Their failing was not in the work they had done, but in their inability to address openly all of the issues in such a way that an unbiased outside observer would be compelled to accept their conclusions. One of Muller’s goals is to be more transparent and open in his own work.
Muller went on to talk about “the deniers” on one side of the climate issue and “the exaggerators” on the other. “In the middle, there are the skeptics who’ve done a really wonderful job of pointing out the flaws in the science.” He places Al Gore with the exaggerators.
Mann doesn’t agree with Muller’s characterization of Gore. Mann wrote, “Actually, climate scientists who have watched the movie have determined that Gore by and large got the science right. See e.g. this article at RealClimate.”
How big a risk is global warming to civilization? “Now you’re outside my area of expertise,” Muller said. “Speaking as a concerned human, I think it’s a big risk, a big danger.” If one assumes it is caused by humans, the temperature will keep rising. “The carbon dioxide will go up unless we do something really drastic. And we can’t do this on our own. We have to get China involved. If China continues to add one new gigawatt of coal every week, as they have been doing now for the last decade, whatever we do in the U.S. is irrelevant.”
In his rebuttal, Mann stated, “To deny any responsibility at all on the part of any major country that relies on fossil fuels (including the U.S.) seems disingenuous at best.”
When Climate One founder, Greg Dalton, spoke of taking personal responsibility, such as driving an electric car, Mueller said that individual actions are “not going to add up.” He went on to argue against the expense of an electric car, saying that the cost should include battery replacements, claiming that batteries have to be replaced every 500 charges.
Muller believes that energy efficiency doesn’t get enough attention. “In the future, it is the only thing that is order of magnitude the same size as switching China from coal to natural gas. It could have that big of an impact.”
– Lucy Sanna
Photo: Ed Ritger Climate One, The Commonwealth Club HQ, San Francisco (June 21, 2012)