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The Chilling Stars: A New Theory of Climate Change Paperback – March 19, 2003
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About the Author
Henrik Svensmark leads a group examining the Sun's effects on the climate, at the Danish National Space Center in Copenhagen. He has published 50 scientific papers on theoretical and experimental physics, including six landmark papers on climate physics. Nigel Calder has spent a lifetime spotting and explaining the big discoveries in all branches of science. He served his apprenticeship as a science writer on the original staff of the magazine New Scientist and was the magazine's Editor from 1962-66. Since then he has worked as an independent author and TV scriptwriter. He won the UNESCO Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science for his work for the BBC in a long succession of 'science specials', with accompanying books. His most recent book is Magic Universe (OUP, 2003), a comprehensive guide to modern science, which was shortlisted for the Aventis Prize for Science Books.
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Top Customer Reviews
Svensmark's theory is that cosmic rays which originate from collapsing stars (novas) are the primary cause of cloud formation, in particular the formation of low level clouds, those 3,000 meters above the ground and lower. Muons, basically very dense electrons, which are among the few cosmic particles to survive the solar winds and contact with the earth's atmosphere to sufficiently interact with with atoms near the surface, liberate electrons in the atomosphere which in turn join with molecules that form stable clusters. These clusters attract a small amount of sulpheric acid and then water molecules to ultimately generate water droplets, the basis of cloud cover. But how exactly does cloud cover affect climate? Most climate models simply see clouds as a byproduct of climate changes, but as Svensmark and Calder demonstrate, clouds themselves are the predominant factor in global cooling. Although they trap heat between the clouds and earth's surface, they also reflect radiant energy from the sun back into space. The net effect of low lying clouds is therefore a cooling one. And, as it happens, all periods of global cooling have coincided with increasing cosmic rays and cloud cover.
The implications of this theory are quite startling. For one thing, it almost completely elimates increases and decreases of carbon dioxide and other so called green house gasses (GHG) from the equation of climate change, a matter of some concern to those who use fears of anthropomorphic global warming to advance their political agendas. Indeed, when Svensmark first proposed his theory in the mid 1990s, it was called "dangerous" because, if correct, it would undermine the vast public funding currently available to the many scientists who feed off of global warming fears. Unfortunately for them, Svensmark's theories have since been experimentally vindicated, something that cannot be said for the "models" that GHG advocates use to prop up their increasingly discredited arguments. Indeed, Svensmark's "chilling stars" are able to explain all the data that other climate change models note. For example, since 1900 the solar magnetic field has almost doubled, resulting in a dramatic decline in the amount of cosmic rays reaching the earth's surface. There has been a consequent temperature increase (.6 degrees celsius) and an 8.6% decrease in cloud cover. This results in "a warming of 1.4 watts per square meter."(p. 80) But this figure is crucially important because it is precisely the same figure that advocates of the man made global warming hypothesis say is the result of increases in greenhouse gases. What this means is that natural variation almost entirely explains all observed temperature increases this century, and this model, unlike the GHG model, is experimentally vindicated.
But what really sets Svensmark and his colleagues apart from the man made global warming advocates is that this model, while also explaining the observed rise in temperature, also explains the data that the other models ignore, and in some cases irresponsibly cover up. For example, it is well known that Antarctica is not experiencing global warming. This is part of a long term climate trend in which Antarctica has for thousands of years experienced cooling while the rest of the world warms, and warming as the rest of the world cools. It is part of the troubling evidence that skeptics of man made global warming routinely bring to the table and which popular films like Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" conveniently ignore. Advocates of GHG as the primary mover of climate change typically try to brush off this anomaly by explaining that they need "more data." But Svensmark explains it easily. The Antarctic ice cap is the one place on earth that is so reflective that it actually loses more radiant energy on cloudless days than on cloudy ones. So, while cloud cover cools the rest of the planet, it warms Antarctica, and as the rest of the planet warms with a decrease in cloud cover, Antarctica cools.
Similarly, Svensmark's work explains the cooling trend the world experienced from the 1940s to the mid 1970s. This period also saw one of the greatest outputs of GHG in history and man made global warming theorists have a great deal of trouble dismissing it. Indeed, for a long time they ignored it but following the pulbication of Michael Crighton's novel 'State of Fear' this anomaly became common knowledge among the literate public. This period also coincides with a slight reduction in solar activity and a slight increase in cosmic ray induced cooling. In terms of the history of global climate, this cooling was not very dramatic, but it was sufficient by 1975 to lead many popular publications to speculate on the coming of a new ice age. Interestingly enough, the solution to "global cooling" political activists sought in the 1970s also involved a reduction in fossil fuel usage, so one might reasonably be skeptical now of their claims to solve global warming by the same technique.
The value of Svensmark and Calder's book, however, extends far beyond the current debates on global climate change and what, if anything, we as a society should do about it. They note that periods of warming and cooling have had a tremendous impact on human history, including the development of agriculture, and on the whole development of life on earth. Indeed, their research suggests ways to narrow the search for life in other parts of our galaxy. The final chapter of the book describes the myriad of research projects that will open up to investigators once this new (but already well tested) paradigm of climate change is adopted.
But the promise of new research, even the promise of a better model, is hardly sufficient to insure the adoption of Svensmark's "Chilling Stars" as a new paradigm for research in the modern era. Historically, as Thomas Kuhn has demonstrated, "science" advances by using a paradigm, a carefully constructed set of theories. These paradigms guide research until a point at which there are too many unexplainable gaps in the theory for the paradigm to continue to be useful. At this point, a new paradigm replaces it. Usually the process by which one paradigm replaces another is fraught with argument, debate, and in some cases dramatic confrontations among advocates of competing ideas. This is how science operates and it generally works quite well. Svensmark's work has been subjected to just this sort of rigorous testing for the last decade and has shown itself to be remarkably versatile. However, late 20th and 21st century science is altogether different than science in earlier periods of human history. Scientists used to be motivated by religious considerations (a desire to better understand creation) or humanitarian motives (curing diseases like polio) or simply curiosity. Such motivations are still common among many scientists. But increasingly, political advocacy coupled with the public funding of science has led to a new motivation for science: the advancement of a political agenda. In such an environment, it may not matter that the work of Svensmark and his colleagues better explains climate, the development of life on the planet, and even better predicts the future. The political usefulness of their studies does not, at present anyway, coincide with that of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and so it is quite possible that their work simply will not get the attention it deserves. This signals a dramatic, and perhaps fundamental, change in the way science operates. Will the future see a continued commitment to experimental research and the free publication of diverse views, or will the modern scientists win out, stiffling open debate and corrupting data to advance their agendas. The case of Michael Mann and his famous "hockey stick" graph is instructive in this regard. Mann, an advocate of the man made global warming hypothesis, knew that the medieval warming period and the little ice age of the last millenia contradicted the GHG theory. So he simply revised history by creating a chart that that showed a stable climate for a thousand years followed by a dramatic increase in the 20th century. He also hid his raw data and algorithms from public and scientific scrutiny for almost a decade, an act that would have immediately disqualified his work from serious consideration among the previous generation of scientists. But in the "Brave New World" of science, his graph graced numerous IPCC publications. Calder rightly calls Mann's work "Orwellian" and dismisses it in favor of finding a theory that accurately explains, rather than explains away, actual climate changes in earth's history. But one cannot help but wonder if Orwell's vision was correct. Time, and in particular, the reception of this spectacular book, will tell. Be sure to get the book yourself and enjoy the read.
I was more than amply rewarded as Mr. Calder's excellent writing takes a complicated subject and patiently explains its most prominent features. After reading his chapter, "Adventures of the cosmic rays," I felt much better informed on this crucial topic. Later he moves through a wealth of observations, interdisciplinary discoveries, and innumerable research studies tying them to temperature effects. Our sun and the Milky Way galaxy have a major impact through cosmic rays on our planet's temperature.
Research papers necessarily focus on a specific experiment or data gathering exercise, so this survey book is essential to fit Svensmark's research into the broader picture. It surprised and delighted me by the tremendous variety of interrelationships that have been discovered. These all relate to the effect cosmic rays have on the formation of clouds in the earth's lower troposphere. An interesting outgrowth is that long term temperature measurements on earth have suggested something so esoteric as revisions to our sun's path through the galaxy.
We have known for a couple of centuries that there seemed to be some correlation between wheat prices (a proxy for temperature variation) and sunspots. Prominent researchers in the last 2 decades have suggested further study after observing that temperature history tracks sunspots better than greenhouse gases.
Others note the rather small anthropogenic contribution to the growth of greenhouse gases. Thus, a significant human-caused temperature effect is unlikely, even if greenhouse gases are implicated.
Still others found that the predicted warming of the atmosphere above the earth's surface simply did not occur. In 1996 the existing theory for formation of clouds in the troposphere was killed (NASA measurements published in 1998). It became apparent that we knew a lot less about the formation of clouds than most people assumed.
The Svensmark team has demonstrated a new cloud formation mechanism in a conceptually simple, but technically brilliant experiment. It showed the rapid formation of aerosols critical to building clouds in the basement of their labs in Copenhagen. This aerosol formation requires the presence of highly energetic cosmic rays that pass through all of us with great frequency (including their basement). With variations in the solar wind sweeping aside some cosmic rays, it is now possible to explain the last millennium's temperature variations. The explanation works not only for the globe, but also for the various regions of the globe, such as Antarctica. Existing warming theory based on greenhouse gases has been unable to do this.
CERN plans to replicate the Svensmark experiment with significant extensions using their large accelerators.
Researchers have only minimal information on global cloud cover with which to make reflectivity calculations. Two spacecraft were inserted into orbit in April 2006 to specifically measure the earth's cloud cover. We should have better information to compute the effects of lower troposphere clouds on the earth's temperature in 2009-2010.
Europe's Gaia space mission starting in 2011 will more precisely map newly formed stars on the near side of our galaxy. Hopefully we can then date sources of cosmic rays that have affected the earth's long term temperature history.
Because this new theory of climate change fits temperature and cosmic history so well, it is starting to become the driver suggesting important areas for further research. It is a welcome relief from a theory that, relying on dated and inaccurate information, is unable to withstand the impact of improved measurements, refined analysis, and new observations.
This book covers so much territory in so few pages, no brief review can begin to do it justice. If you have any interest in global temperature trends you simply must read this book!