Retired Dons Simple Sum Uncovers a Global Error
From The Sunday Telegraph, 3 May 1998
By Robert Matthews
A chemistry professor has embarrassed experts by pointing out a flaw in their predictions about the warming of the Earth's atmosphere. David Taylor, an emeritus professor of chemistry living in retirement in Scarborough, has examined the claims for global warming - and, in particular, the argument that pollution must be to blame. He claims to have made an astonishing discovery: the mere act of burning fossil fuel may heat the atmosphere at the rate of around half a degree centigrade a decade - just the sort of rise that climatologists have tried to blame on pollution.
Climatologists, using sophisticated computer models, have claimed to be able to predict the consequences of this global warming, and have issued dire warnings to politicians. Last week, European ministers duly signed up to an international agreement aimed at cutting back on the amount of pollution. Mr Taylor said: "Whatever it is used for, all this energy will eventually turn up as heat - by friction if in no other way. And it ends up warming the biosphere." Of the claims made by scientists that global warming is caused by pollution, Mr Taylor said: "I think this calculation makes them look pretty silly."
Yet despite this, Mr Taylor initially met a wall of silence when he sent his calculations to climate experts. He said: "Someone accused me of missing out a factor of 10, which I hadn't. But apart from that, there did not really seem to be much reaction at all - except, I suppose, incredulity." However, shown Mr Taylor's calculations by The Telegraph, experts at the Hadley Centre, Britain's leading climate research centre in Bracknell, Berks, admitted that the effect was genuine - and that their computer models ignore the fact that burning fuel makes heat. Peter Rowntree, of the centre, said: "We have not so far included this heating effect in the climate model, although we have been considering whether we should." He insisted that the effect was almost certainly much smaller than Mr Taylor claims. But he conceded that the only way of showing that the effect highlighted by Mr Taylor could be ignored would be to include it in a full computer model - which may now be carried out, following Mr Taylor's discovery.
Critics of the reliance put on computer models of the climate point to previous cases of "garbage in, garbage out". They include the discovery that the warming effects of methane from the flatulence of the world's cattle had been radically overestimated - as scientists had forgotten that cattle in developing countries are half-starved. Mr Taylor said: "What my calculations really show is that one just doesn't know what other effects have been left out of the climate models. God knows what else they have missed."