Alaska leaders need to discuss climate change, ignore uninformed politicians

Sen. Pete Kelly, who is running for re-election, claims that climate science is a scam.

"There is hysteria about it, but the science is bad,” Kelly announced during a campaign event this summer, repeating what has become standard Republican advice to ignore science in the interests of politics.

In a forum in September with his Democratic challenger, Rep. Scott Kawasaki, Kelly made a series of uninformed and false statements in trying to back up his claim that “the science is bad.”

Kelly, a business graduate of Liberty University, did not know the name of the organization he was denouncing as a fraud—the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

He was wrong about the history of the so-called “hockey stick” issue and he gave an inaccurate summation of the Climatic Research Unit email controversy of 2009.

A little research shows that he is peddling bad information and passing it off with the confidence of a used car salesman.

In the September forum he was asked, “What can we do to deal with the effects of climate change in Alaska?”

Kelly said:

“I love Dr. Syun Akasofu. He, as you know, he has the building named after him. He is a world-renowned scientist. And he looked at what the UN did, the UN CLL or UN LCC, the UN commission on climate change.

And he said they came to the wrong conclusion. He had all kinds of reasons to back up his conclusions. Syun doesn’t do things without a lot of thought.

Do you remember the hockey stick graph that came out of the UN scientific community? That is one of the most widely discredited phenomenons in science, in the history of science.

It was, it came from a committee that one of its members said 80 percent of these people either have nothing to do with climate science or are not scientists at all. They were people who were social scientists and the like. Then what came out was the emails, that said they were doctoring the numbers, they were threatening people and causing people to come to the wrong conclusions. When I say the climate science is suspect, it’s for a darn good reason. It’s backed up by one of the major people, one of the major scientists in Alaska and on planet Earth, Syun Akasofu.”

Akasofu is a climate change contrarian.

In 2007, Akasofu compared climate change to the hysteria following the “War of the Worlds” broadcast by Orson Welles in 1938 and wrote in the Far Eastern Economic Review there is “flimsy science behind the arguments advanced by global warming alarmists.”

In telling the public that there is no need to think at all about this issue because he likes what Akasofu says, Kelly is doing a disservice by dismissing the scientific consensus on the topic and the serious problems identified by other scientists with Akasofu’s work on this matter.

Akasofu, 87, is the retired founding director of the International Arctic Research Center, an institution that exists largely because of his ability and persistence. He has had an outstanding career unlocking the secrets of the aurora. I have interviewed him several times and there are few people I hold in higher regard.

His contributions to Alaska and the University of Alaska are immense.

But on climate change, Akasofu is an outlier and not just among the researchers who work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks building that bears his name. The papers he has written are long on opinion and short on evidence.

His central argument, which he has repeated for many years, is that global warming has been taking place for centuries and that there is a natural linear “recovery” or “rebounding” from a cold period that lasted from about the 1300s to the 1800s, the “Little Ice Age.” The multi-decadal shifts in the temperatures of the Pacific Basin also play a part. He argues that the burning of fossil fuels by humans is a minor element in climate change.

Plus, he says that computer simulations are misleading and too much emphasis is placed on them.

The central counter argument from Akasofu’s critics is that the climate is not a bouncing ball and computer simulations are getting better as time passes. It is not scientifically valid to claim a natural recovery or “rebounding” if you cannot give a physical reason for the label.

Kevin Trenberth, a distinguished senior scientist in the climate analysis section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, said Akasofu’s claim of a “recovery” from the Little Ice Age is “utter nonsense.”

“A ‘recovery’ or increase in temperature has to have a cause! We know what the cause is!” he said, referring to the increase in greenhouse gases.

Akasofu says that just because he cannot give a cause, it does not mean he is wrong. But it also doesn’t mean he is right.

John Walsh, the IARC chief scientist who works in the building named for Akasofu, says “there is overwhelming evidence that human emission of greenhouse gases is a major contributor to climate change of the past century or so.”

“Given the overwhelming scientific evidence, together with the fact that the recent climate changes are consistent with what science says should be happening as a result of human influences, any claim that the science is suspect needs to be accompanied by credible evidence, said Walsh.

In 2013, Akasofu published a paper in the first issue of a new journal, Climate, “On the Present Halting of Global Warming.”

In response, four scientists from Norway, Australia, Minnesota and New York, said he was wrong about an alleged two-century linear increase, wrong about a halt to global warming since 2000, wrong about how factors other than carbon dioxide influence the climate and wrong to claim that natural factors have been ignored.

“The simultaneous occurrence of all of these errors in a single study guarantees that its conclusions cannot be supported and, in fact, are demonstrably incorrect,” wrote Dana Nuccitelli, John Abraham, Rasmus Benestad and Scott Mandia.

Two members of the editorial board of the journal resigned after Akasofu’s paper was published. One of them, Chris Brierley, head of a climate change program at University College London, said the paper was not of sufficient quality to be published and “I do not want to be associated with a journal with such lapses of judgment.”

Brierley said that had Akasofu’s hypothesis of a natural trend of rising temperatures been tested, according to the scientific method, it would have been shown to be false.

Trenberth, a lead author of the 2001 and 2007 IPCC reports, said that sea level rise is relentless and the Earth is warmer than ever. “I am not referring to the global surface temperature, but to the global heat: most of which is in the oceans.”

“Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and produces trapping of energy: warming. Since it has increased by > 40% how can he explain away that warming: which is more than enough to produce the observed changes. I say ‘more than enough’ because visible pollution has offset this a bit,” he said.

I have had several email exchanges with Akasofu on his theories both before and after the alarming report from the IPCC calling for a drastic changes to limit the increase in greenhouse gases.

This one expresses my point of view:


I admire your work and your many accomplishments. You are one of the great figures in the history of science in Alaska.

Please take all of what follows in that context.

While it is true that "the fact that I do not know the cause of the temperature rise does not mean I am wrong or LIA did not exist," that does not mean that you are right that the temperature rise is a "recovery" or a "rebound."

The updated IPCC report is a serious document, given that it is the work of 91 scientists from 40 countries who reviewed more than 6,000 studies, according to the New York Times. There have been many thousands of review comments from scientists all over the world.

I still would like to know what you think the chances are that your theory is correct and that the scientific consensus is wrong. It is unfortunate that both of us will be dead when the final proof is in!

The IPCC says it "uses the reference period 1850 to 1900 to represent pre-industrial conditions. This is the earliest period with near–global observations and is the reference period used as an approximation of pre-industrial temperatures in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report."

The most relevant comment in connection with your theory is this:

"The choice of pre-industrial reference period, along with the method used to calculate global average temperature, can alter scientists’ estimates of historical warming by a couple of tenths of a degree Celsius. Such differences become important in the context of a global temperature limit just half a degree above where we are now. But provided consistent definitions are used, they do not affect our understanding of how human activity is influencing the climate."

Part of what gives me pause is that you have been asserting for more than a decade that the IPCC reached a baseless conclusion, but some of your original arguments have fallen apart. For instance, the hockey stick argument. Secondly, the claim that global warming stopped after 2000. If your theory is correct that natural changes are more important than the burning of fossil fuels, surely it is possible that short-term changes in temperatures are to be expected.

The volume of peer-reviewed studies is solidly against your point of view. That does not prove you are wrong, but it is a piece of evidence. A decade ago you said there was no consensus on human-caused climate change. Do you agree now that there is a scientific consensus and you believe that the consensus is incorrect?

Dermot Cole4 Comments