ON THE CLIMATE CHANGE SEMINAR
OF THE FRIEDRICH NAUMANN FOUNDATION,
Gummersbach, Germany 18-20 February 2005
by Bernd Ströher and Benny Peiser
This is a brief report about an interesting seminar on climatic change and the Kyoto Protocol, which was held at the Theodor Heuss Academy in Gummersbach (near Bonn) last weekend. For a noteworthy change, some of Germany's top climatologists gave presentations at a meeting that also included a number of more 'sceptical' speakers.
The conference ("Kyoto - Climatic Predictions: Meaningfulness of the models and strategies for action") was organised by the liberal Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung together with the Society for the Freedom of Science. The list of speakers included top scientists and researchers and was opened by Michael Miersch, Germany's leading environmental journalist and a well-known advocate of "eco-optimism". Over the next couple of days, there were presentations by Prof. Bray (GKSS Forschungszentrum Geesthacht), Prof. von Storch (GKSS Forschungszentrum Geesthacht), Prof. Mangini (Academy of Science, University of Heidelberg) Prof. Stehr (Zeppelin University), Prof. Fabian (Technical University Munich), Prof. Gerlich (Technical University Braunschweig), und Julian Morris (University of Buckingham).
The conference had been prepared by the organisers for more than one year and with great difficulties. Some of the invited scientists appeared unable or unwilling to participate -- for various reasons, but mainly because of what some regarded to be a somewhat 'daring' programme. Nevertheless, the conference coincided with other relevant events: the entry into force of the Kyoto treaty and the apparent beginning of a more critical discussion of climate alarmism in the German media.
Michael Crichton's new book, which was recently published in German, has become a headline-grabbing best-seller. Its huge success prompted the "STERN", with a print run of over a million copies (Germany's biggest weekly), to publish a story (on 17 pages no less) under the frontpage title: "Climate Catastrophe: A panic scare?" The report objected to some of the unjustified exaggeration of climate-change issues openly and critically. The "SPIEGEL", another, more politically aligned weekly with an equally high circulation, had already published a critical interview with Prof von Storch in which he attacked the notorious Hockey Stick as a piece of "rubbish". In another SPIEGEL essay at the end of January 2005, von Storch pleaded for a more moderate treatment of climate change problems and criticised the unfounded hype and exaggeration of potential risks by climate alarmists.
While Mann's Hockey Stick has received much stick in Germany's print media, its more fundamental critique by McIntyre and McKitrick has not been widely reported yet. Nevertheless, the broken Hockey Stick featured prominently throughout the conference. Prof von Storch stressed that it was his study in Science last year that cracked Mann's flawed climate graph. He passed no unfavourable judgement on McIntyre and McKitrick but cautioned that their recent paper should not be "overrated".
Particularly revealing were the almost sensational results of a survey conducted by Prof. Bray among some 500 German and European climate researchers. The results show impressively that the much- repeated claim of a "scientific consensus" on anthropogenic global warming is a carefully constructed piece of fiction: According to the survey results, some 25% of European climate researchers who took part in the survey still doubt whether most of the moderate warming during the last 150 years can be attributed to human activities and CO2 emissions.
The detailed investigations by Prof Mangini likewise left little place for any justification of Mann's Hockey Stick. In fact, his results showed quite the opposite. Mangini presented the results from his research on stalagmites, which show a very pronounced medieval warming period and an even warmer Holocene Climate Optimum. Mangini attributed these climatic fluctuations to the varying influence of the sun. He also stressed that, at least with regard to geological past, scientists are agreed about ice-core evidence, which suggests that the rise in atmospheric CO2 levels followed an increase of temperatures -- and not the other way round.
When one of the addressees asked the legitimate question whether the current rise of CO2 may likewise be a response rather than the cause of rising temperatures over the last 100 years, Prof von Storch, disappointingly, threatened to walk out. After a quick and tactful intervention by Wolfgang Mueller and Brigitte Poetter, the two polite and diplomatic hosts of the meeting, the discussion continued calmly. It was pointed out that today's world differs substantially from previous ages in that significant amounts of additional anthropogenic CO2 are emitted into the atmosphere and that this, most likely, has an additional effect which was not around in pre-industrial ages.
Be that as it may, there was little enthusiasm among many speakers and most of the audience about the claim that anthropogenic global warming has been verified. Only Prof Fabian argued unequivocally that the rise in temperatures has been driven by human causes. Yet even Fabian spoke out again despair and alarmism, pointing out that by transforming forests world-wide we could easily establish carbon sinks capable of taking up additional CO2 emissions.
In the context of computer models and their reliability, Julian Morris, a British economist at the University of Buckingham and the last speaker of the seminar, was not enthusiastic about their capability to predict future developments. He suggested that if societies really wanted to reduce CO2 emissions, it would be prudent to start doing so in about 20 years or so with more developed technologies and lower economic cost. As far as he was concerned, the use of modelling to predict future climate change is just as impossible as the modelling of future economic developments.
In a nutshell: Despite the many organisational difficulties, this was surely a very successful meeting during which, perhaps for the first time, leading climate scientists were confronted not just with critical colleagues but a much more sceptical audience. Let us hope that this altogether fruitful dialogue between the scientific mainstream and an increasingly critical public will continue in the future.