A environmental theory that proposes a cause of global warming unrelated to greenhouse gasses is undergoing something of a renaissance at CERN, the world’s most important research facility for questions involving things that are very small and very fast. As the WSJ reports:
[There is] another possible factor in climate change: charged subatomic particles from outer space, or “cosmic rays,” whose atmospheric levels appear to rise and fall with the weakness or strength of solar winds that deflect them from the earth. These shifts might significantly impact the type and quantity of clouds covering the earth, providing a clue to one of the least-understood but most important questions about climate…
At the Franco-Swiss home of the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, scientists have been shooting simulated cosmic rays into a cloud chamber to isolate and measure their contribution to cloud formation. CERN’s researchers reported last month that in the conditions they’ve observed so far, these rays appear to be enhancing the formation rates of pre-cloud seeds by up to a factor of 10. Current climate models do not consider any impact of cosmic rays on clouds.
In the politically charged atmosphere of climate change science and policy, research on cosmic rays has been attacked from many sides, including the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Bert Bolin, then the head of the IPCC, attacked the authors of the research because he thought no responsible scientists would pursue lines of research that questioned climate orthodoxy: “I find the move from this pair scientifically extremely naïve and irresponsible.”
Via Meadia, readers will be shocked to hear, does not know whether cosmic rays have anything to do with rates of cloud formation. We know nothing about the motives of the researchers involved. But clearly the question is of sufficient interest to get the world’s largest particle accelerator involved.
Perhaps the conclusions will bolster the position that human activity is driving the world’s temperatures higher. Perhaps they will lead climate scientists to tweak their computer models in ways that change the debate. Most likely, the results of this experiment will open up some new questions and generate new hypotheses requiring more tests.
Climate science involves the study of a bafflingly complex system in which an untold number of variables interact in ways that are extremely difficult to model or predict. The science is very young; its conclusions may change in quite significant ways.
Most greens don’t want that to be true because they want the world to adopt drastic policy changes now. But the political reality is that those changes are both expensive and difficult (or even, realistically speaking) impossible to make given the limits of human institutions and political behavior. Any whisper of uncertainty or debate about the conclusions of climate science undermines the case for radical action now, so the green movement paints itself into a corner: it hypes the science it likes, and fights the science that might threaten its agenda.
While there are plenty of individual greens who are cautious in their policy advice and responsible in their use of evidence, the movement as a whole is driven by emotion. Most greens are not Vulcans, dispassionately calculating the best course of action by the dictates of reason. They are angry, frightened, committed true believers on a mission from Gaia, and many have a deep view that capitalism itself is a kind of cancer — uncontrolled growth that will sooner or later kill us all. (Sherri Tepper’s science fiction in which life-affirming, grounded, caring ecologically minded people frequently of the female persuasion overcome various male/science/capitalist/cancerous growth affirming death cults on planets around the galaxy portrays this core mindset pretty well.)
This is religion, not science, romanticism not reason. Add to that significant economic interests in subsidized industries (alternative power generation, ethanol, firms hoping to benefit from carbon trading) and one sees that the green movement as a whole is driven by anything but disinterested regard for the fruit of scientific research.
Disentangling that morass of commercial profit seeking and apocalyptic hyperventilation from the core of rational inquiry and thoughtful concern that the best environmental thinkers bring to bear is what the world badly needs. Again, I am left hoping that the press will stop colluding with the fanatics and the hustlers so that the actual results, however tentative, of this vital line of scientific research can receive the careful and considered reflection they deserve.