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Nov 13, 2003

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Debunking comments
As a physicist who studied and taught in the field of climatology for many years, I'd like to debunk some of Steven Pearce's comments in your Oct. 30 issue. He clearly does not understand some of the atmospheric physics, urban climatology and the effects of science on social policy - all things that we teach to undergraduates in the SFU geography department (where I've taught for the last three years).

First, he says that the atmosphere's infrared opacity is created to an insignificant extent by carbon dioxide. That is nonsense. Carbon dioxide is a significant part of the atmosphere's infrared opacity at those many wavelengths where water vapour is not a good absorber, particularly in the atmospheric window between about eight and 12 micrometres and at some longer wavelengths.

Second, his assertions about solar control of temperature at the Earth's surface has never been adequately explained by a physically plausible model. The temperature changes it can explain are much smaller than those observed. This point, along with several other red herrings he raised, was covered in the latest report of the IPCC (the intergovernmental panel on climate change).

Third, the data which he slams (“the island effect from urban stations”) may have some validity, but most climatologists believe that, until it's been proved otherwise, the work done by East Anglia, NASA-Goddard, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and others to correct for these effects is quite good. The expert groups he quotes as being skeptical are largely not in this field and know about the same amount about this as he (and I) know about dunking a basketball in the NBA.

Finally, Pearce shows a complete lack of understanding of the Kyoto protocol, a topic which I just completed with my geography 102 students. The protocol was never intended to be the solution to anthropogenic climate change. It was meant to be a first step, during which the industrialized nations would take a baby step in the direction of reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases. It was meant to curb the wasteful use of fuels and to begin the long process of curbing our unintended experiment in changing the chemistry of the atmosphere.

I agree with Pearce. Do your own research on this topic. See what may happen to both the environment and the human population if we do nothing about this problem. To the students here - it's your world. Do you really want to risk it because Pearce says there's no problem. Contrary to his final statements, there are plenty of facts in this field and plenty of theses and plenty of professors and graduate students.

Heck, why not take a climatology course so you can understand more of the problem. We're always looking for eager students. But, for heaven sakes, don't believe condescending comments by someone who, by his own admission, isn't even in the field on which he's commenting.

Owen Hertzman
Geography instructor

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