Warming Up to the Truth: The Real Story About Climate Change

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Warming Up to the Truth: The Real Story About Climate Change


By: Sallie Baliunas

Date: June 19, 2002

Source: Baliunas, Sallie. "Warming Up to the Truth: The Real Story About Climate Change." Heritage Lecture #758, June 19, 2002. 〈http://www.heritage.org/Press/Events/2002archive.cfm〉 (accessed March 17, 2006.)

About the Author: Sallie Baliunas received her Master of Arts degree in 1975 and her Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1980, both in astrophysics from Harvard University. Among some of her professional interests are solar variability, climate change, visible and ultraviolet spectroscopy of stars, adaptive optics, astronomical physics, and magnetohydrodynamics of the Sun and other similar stars. Baliunas is an astrophysicist and senior scientist at the George Marshall Institute, along with chairing its Science Advisory Board. She is also a visiting professor at Brigham Young University; adjunct professor at Tennessee State University; and enviro-sci host for TechCentralStation.com, along with maintaining an academic appointment at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Baliunas has been awarded the Newton Lacey Pierce Prize by the American Astronomical Society and the Bok Prize from Harvard University. Baliunas has also been a contributing editor to the World Climate Report (a publication of the Western Fuels Association); advisory board member of the UK Scientific Alliance; expert at the Competitive Enterprise Institute; global warming and ozone layer expert for the National Center of Public Policy Research; Robert Wesson Endowment Fund Fellow at the Hoover Institution; and technical consultant for the television series, "Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict." She has written over 200 scientific research articles and such publications for the George C. Marshall Institute as "The Ozone Crisis," "Are Human Activities Causing Global Warming?," and "Ozone and Global Warming, Are the Problems Real?"


Baliunas is one of a small group of scientists who oppose proposed actions such as the Kyoto Protocol to reduce the combustion of fossil fuels (such as oil, coal, and natural gas) and the resulting emissions of greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide). These human-made activities, which occurred predominately during most of the twentieth century and now continue into the twenty-first century, have been blamed for the rapid warming of the Earth's atmosphere along with its oceans and landmasses.

Baliunas agrees with the overwhelming scientific evidence that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been increasing during this period of about one hundred years. However, she stated within her speech "Warming Up to the Truth: The Real Story About Climate Change" that scientific evidence collected in the latter part of the twentieth century does not support the idea of drastically reducing greenhouse gases in order to prevent (presumed) massive declines within the global environment. Instead, Baliunas claimed that changes in the energy output of the sun are the natural and prime cause of the noticeable warming of the planet. As a result, she is a strong opponent of the generally accepted scientific connection between recent temperature increases in the global climate and the increase of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.


The scientific facts on which everyone agrees are that, as a result of using coal, oil, and natural gas, the carbon dioxide content of the air is increasing. The air's concentration of other human-produced greenhouse gases, like methane, has also increased. These greenhouse gases absorb infrared radiation from the sun, and they retain some of that energy close to earth.

All computer simulations of climate change say that, based on how we understand climate to work, the low layer of air for 1 to 5 miles up (the low troposphere), where the radiation is trapped, should warm. That low layer of air warming should, in turn, warm the surface.

Scientific facts gathered in the past ten years do not support the notion of catastrophic human-made warming as a basis for drastic carbon dioxide emission cuts….

Now for the science. There are two important records that we'll look at. I just told you how we think climate operates in the presence of increasing carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases in the air from human activities. The layer of air 1 to 5 miles up retains energy and that layer, in turn, heats the surface of the earth. The human-made greenhouse warming component must warm both layers of air, with computer simulations indicating the low troposphere would warm more quickly and to a greater amount than the surface….

To see if the twentieth century surface warming is from human activity or not, we begin looking in detail at the surface record. In the twentieth century, three trends are easily identified. From 1900 to 1940, the surface warms strongly. From 1940 to about the late 1970s, a slight cooling trend is seen. Then from the late 1970s to the present, warming occurs. Briefly, the surface records show early twentieth century warming, mid-twentieth century cooling, and late twentieth century warming.

Most of the increase in the air's concentration of greenhouse gases from human activities—over eighty percent—occurred after the 1940s. That means that the strong early twentieth century warming must be largely, if not entirely, natural.

The mid-twentieth century cooling can't be a warming response owing to the air's added greenhouse gases. The only portion of this record that could be largely human-made is that of the past few decades. The slope of that trend calculated over the past few decades is about one-tenth of a degree Centigrade per decade.

Now, most all the computer models agree that the human-made warming would be almost linear in fashion. So over a century the extrapolated warming trend expected from continued use of fossil fuels would amount to about 1 degree Centigrade per century. That's what the surface temperature says would be the upper limit….

NASA launched satellites starting in 1979 to measure this layer of air. The satellites look down and record these measurements daily. I've plotted the monthly averages. There are lots of jigs and jags in the data, and they are real….

I asked the computer to naively draw a linear trend through the data recorded by satellites. This linear trend probably has a bias, an upward bias because of that strong 1997–1998 El Ninño warm pulse. Nonetheless, the fitted trend is: positive four-hundredths of a degree Centigrade per decade.

Now, this is the layer of air sensitive to the human-made warming effect, and the layer that must warm at least as much as the surface according to the computer simulations. Yet, the projected warming from human activities can't be found in the low troposphere in any great degree. The four-hundredths of a degree Centigrade might be entirely due to this El Ninño bias. If the small warming trend in the low troposphere were assumed to be entirely human-caused, the trend is much smaller than forecast by any model. Extrapolated over a century, the observed trend indicates a human-made warming trend no greater than four-tenths of a degree Centigrade.

In contrast, the computer models say this very key layer of air must be warming from human activities. The predictions are that the air must be warming at a rate of approximately a quarter of a degree Centigrade per decade.

Comparing what the computer models say should be happening with the actual satellite observations shows a mismatch of around a factor of six. That is, this layer of air just is not warming the way the computer simulations say it should. There should have been a half a degree Centigrade per decade warming in this layer of air over the period of satellite observations. The human-made warming trend isn't there….

In other words, the satellite data and the balloon data both say that the records reflect the actual change in this layer of air. Again, as with the satellite record, one can recognize short-term natural variations—El Ninño, La Ninña, volcanic eruptions—but one does not see the decades-long human-caused warming trend projected by climate models….

And also known from computer simulations is that the human-made warming trend is supposed to grow steadily over decades. So, a shift all at once in 1976–1977 is ruled out by those two reasons. One, it's not what the models project; and two, we see this event before the build-up of human-made greenhouse gases, and it is therefore natural.

The satellite data and the balloon data agree when both records coexist, from 1979 to the present. The balloon record reaches back four decades. Neither record sees a meaningful human-made warming trend.

Now, just remember this one thing from this talk, if nothing else: That layer of air cannot be bypassed; that layer of air must warm if computer model projections are accurate in detailing the human-made warming trend from the air's increased greenhouse gases. But that layer of air is not warming. Thus the human-made effect must be quite small.

Additionally, the recent warming trend in the surface record must not owe to the human-made effect. The surface temperature is warming for some other reason, likely natural influences. The argument here, from NASA and NOAA data, is that this layer of air from 1 to 5 miles in altitude is not warming the way computer simulations say it must warm in the presence of human activity. Therefore, the human-made effect is small. The surface data must be warming from natural effects, because the human-made warming trend must appear both in the low troposphere and at the surface. All models are in agreement on that.

Now, if the surface data are warming for a natural reason, what might that be? Our research team studies changes in the energy output of the sun and its influence on life and the environment of earth….

Over the past half-century, the sun has become very active, and the sun is more active than it has been for four hundred years. Therefore, the sun is likely at its brightest in four hundred years.

Also noteworthy is a feature called the Maunder Minimum. In the seventeenth century, the observations of sunspots show extraordinarily low levels of magnetism on the sun, with little or no eleven-year cycle. That phase of low solar activity has not been encountered in modern times (although radiocarbon records indicate that a Maunder-minimum episode occurs for a century every several centuries). The seventeenth-century Maunder Minimum corresponds with the coldest century of the last millennium….

The ups and downs of each record match fairly well. The coincident changes in the sun's changing energy output and temperature records on earth tend to argue that the sun has driven a major portion of the twentieth century temperature change. For example, a strong warming in the late nineteenth century, continuing in the early twentieth century, up to the 1940s, seems to follow the sun's energy output changes fairly well.

The mid-twentieth century cooling, and some of the latter twentieth century warming, also seem matched to changes in the sun.

To review: The surface warming that should be occurring from human-made actions, which is predicted to be accompanied by low troposphere warming, cannot be found in modern records from balloon and satellite platforms.

Thus, the recent surface warming trend may owe largely to changes in the sun's energy output….

In summary, little evidence supports the idea of catastrophic human-made global warming effects. Undertaking a Kyoto-type program would produce little abatement of the forecast risk, while the cost of such a program would divert resources and attention from major environmental, health, and welfare challenges….

The latest scientific results are good news: The human influence on global climate change is small and will be slow to develop. The conclusion comes from the lack of meaningful warming trends of the low layer of air, in contradiction to the computer simulations that project a strong human effect should already be present. Those results present an opportunity to improve climate theory, computer simulations of climate, and obtain crucial measurements.

The economic consequences of not relying on science but instead on the anti-scientific Precautionary Principle, are considerable, and are not so speculative. The economic impact of significantly cutting fossil fuel use will be hard-felt, and they will be devastating to those on fixed incomes, those in developing countries, and those on the margins of the economy.

For the next several decades, fossil fuel use is key to improving the human condition. Freed from their geologic repositories, fossil fuels have been used for many economic, health, and environmental benefits. But the environmental catastrophes that have been forecast from their use have yet to be demonstrated by their critics.


In her paper, Baliunas stated there is no solid evidence that the Earth's global climate is excessively warming due to the emission of greenhouse gases by human activities. Instead, she claimed that changes in temperatures on Earth are just part of a naturally occurring cycle that warms and cools the Earth over hundreds or even thousands of years. In addition, Baliunas claimed that whatever climate changes have been artificially generated by human activities, they are not large enough to recommend or require large and expensive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Such reduction measures, Baliunas believes, would put unreasonable economic pressures on the United States and other industrialized countries who would most likely first implement such reductions.

Baliunas based her conclusions on the air temperature at the lowest level of the troposphere—the most dense layer of the atmosphere where most of the weather occurs—which extends from about 1 to 5 miles (1.6 to 8 kilometers) from the surface of the Earth. Based on computer simulations, Baliunas stated that the low troposphere would warm first, directly resulting in a warmer surface on the Earth—although less quickly and to a smaller degree.

Comparing theoretical computer models of what should be happening to the global climate based on the emissions of greenhouse gases to actual measurements from NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) satellites and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather balloons, Baliunas found agreement between the NASA and NOAA measurements: short-term natural variations were present but long-term variations (in the range of decades) caused by human activities were not present. These two measurements conflicted with what was predicted by computer models.

Baliunas concluded the warming in global climate that has occurred in the last one hundred years or so is predominately due to changes in the sun's energy output. If Baliunas is correct in this statement, then any reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will have little impact on the rise in global temperatures. For instance, the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 international accord that sets limits on greenhouse gas emissions, would slightly but insignificantly lower the temperature (warming) trend around the globe. However, if implemented, the Kyoto Protocol would cost an enormous amount of money. Baliunas stated that a Yale University study predicted Kyototype costs would cause a loss of about $2.7 trillion in gross domestic product in the United States over a tenyear period.

In conclusion, Baliunas believes that actions to reduce the threat of global warming based on reductions of greenhouse gases will not significantly improve global climatic conditions, but will, instead, only inflict tremendous expenses to countries that implement such actions.



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Willis, Henry. Earth's Future Climate. Coral Springs, FL: Llumina Press, 2003.

Web sites

Nesmith, Jeff. "Foes of Global Warming Theory Have Energy Ties." Cox News Service, June 2, 2003. 〈http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/124642_warming02.html〉 (accessed March 17, 2006).

"Separating Climate Fact From Fiction: Testimony of March 13, 2002, by Dr. Sallie Baliunas provided to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, chaired by Sen. James M. Jeffords." Science and Environmental Policy Project. 〈http://www.sepp.org/NewSEPP/Testimony-baliunas.htm〉 (accessed March 17, 2006).

Koski, Olivia. "Sallie Baliunas, the Global Warming Debate, and Think Tank Scholarship." Occasions Online, Program for Writing and Rhetoric, University of Colorado, Boulder. 〈http://www.colorado.edu/pwr/occasions/salliebaliunas.htm〉 (accessed November 8, 2005).

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