Arctic Climate Expert Urges More Honest Climate Change Discussion

Published March 1, 2008

Dr. Syun Akasofu, founding director of the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, has sent an open letter to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) documenting flaws in the IPCC process and suggesting improvements.

Akasofu has published more than 550 professional journal articles, authored or co-authored 10 books, and has been the invited author of many encyclopedia articles. He has collaborated with numerous colleagues nationally and internationally and has guided nine students to their Ph.D.s. The text of his letter, sent to IPCC on December 18, follows.

We encounter scientific terms, such as climate change, global warming, the greenhouse effect, and carbon dioxide a few times every day in newspapers, radio broadcasts, TV news, as well as in conversations among people. It must be the first time in the history of science that a specific scientific field has gotten so much attention from the public.

As a scientist, I am pleased about the public’s interest in science. Unfortunately, however, I am afraid that this great interest by the public in climatology is largely the result of a proliferating number of confusing stories in the media that are based on misinterpreted information about the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide.

If the IPCC wants to represent this particular scientific field to the world, they are responsible for rectifying the great confusion and misinterpretation of scientific facts in the mind of the public. Some of the items that need clarification and action are:

1. Define climate change, global warming, manmade greenhouse effect, and ask the public to stop the synonymous use of these terms. (Those who use these terms synonymously do not know what they are talking about.)

2. Ask the mass media to stop using scenes of large blocks of ice falling off the terminus of a glacier and of the spring break-up in the Arctic as supposedly due to the manmade greenhouse effect. (Glaciers are ‘rivers of ice,’ so that calving is natural, and spring break-up is a normal, annual event; both have been going on from the [beginnings of] geological time.)

3. Ask the mass media to stop using collapsing houses built on permafrost (frozen ground) as a result of the manmade greenhouse effect. (Their collapse is due to improper construction that allows the house heat to melt the permafrost underneath the structure.)

4. Tell that sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is not a single plate of ice. (The area covered by sea ice changes considerably because of winds and ocean currents, not just by melting.)

5. Call attention to the fact that anomalous, extreme, and unusual weather phenomena are not directly related to the manmade greenhouse effect. (The manmade greenhouse effect is represented by a slow increase of temperature at the rate of 0.6°C/100 years.)

6. Acknowledge that the use of the so-called “hockey stick” figure in the 2001 Summary Report for Policy Makers was not appropriate. (It [falsely] shows a sudden increase of temperature around 1900 after a slow decrease for 900 years, giving the impression of ‘abrupt climate change.’)

7. Acknowledge that the present warming trend is not unusual or abnormal in the light of past temperature changes. (There were many warmer periods than the present one, which lasted hundreds of years during the present interglacial period that began 10,000 years ago.)

8. Distinguish between the manmade greenhouse effect and a great variety of manmade environmental destructions, which are often mentioned by greenhouse advocates in the same breath. (The latter includes results from the over-harvesting of forests and fish, pollution, extinction of some species.)

9. Stop media reports telling that the sea level has already increased several meters during the last 50 years. (According to the 2007 IPCC Report, the rising rate is 1.8mm/year, so that the sea level increased 9 cm during the last 50 years.)

10. Scientists who study satellite data should not use the term “unprecedented changes.” (They do not have satellite data before the 1970s and cannot tell if any of the changes are “unprecedented,” even those that occurred in the 1930s or 1940s, not having comparable data.)

11. Encourage the mass media not to report only on sensational scientific findings that may represent the opinion of only one scientist or a few. (Reporters who are not familiar with arctic phenomena tend to report normal features as anomalous.)

12. Remind scientists to be careful about hinting at possible disaster scenarios resulting from the greenhouse effect of CO2 without solid scientific bases.

I believe these are reasonable requests, over which no debate is needed. The public is alarmed and thus concerned about climate change largely because they are confused by the above and other misinformation and misunderstanding, not because they are particularly interested in climatology. People bring up these and many other misunderstood issues when I discuss the present warming trend with the public.

I am concerned about the inevitable backlash against science and scientists, when the public learns the correct information about climate change. Even if the IPCC is not directly responsible for the present confusion, they should take the necessary responsible action to help rectify the situation.

Syun-Ichi Akasofu
Founding Director
International Arctic Research Center