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Published Date: 11 February 2009
By Jenny Haworth
DR JIM Buckee says he feels like a heretic, persecuted for his views and treated like an outcast. His crime? Being a climate change sceptic.
Next week the former chief executive of the oil and gas firm Talisman, who has a PhD in astrophysics from the University of Oxford, will try to convince others that climate change has nothing to do with human activity.
During a lecture at the University of Aberdeen he will argue that, far from warming, the Earth is set to enter a 20-year cooling period.
Dr Buckee believes human behaviour has no effect on the climate and the vast sums spent by governments trying to promote renewable energy to cut greenhouse gas emissions are being wasted.
Far from being a key cause of climate change, he says, carbon dioxide emissions have little or no impact.
His views are contrary to those held by governments, the Royal Society – an independent science body – the Met Office and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Instead of human activities being responsible for the warming climate over the past 100 years, Dr Buckee insists there is a natural explanation, based on the activity of the Sun.
Solar activity can affect the cosmic rays that reach the Earth's atmosphere, and this in turn affects the climate, he says.
The "solar explanation" is one shared by many climate change sceptics.
Dr Buckee says he is arguing against a tide of popular opinion which verges on the religious.
"Any dissension is like a heresy," he says. "People are stamped on so they can't be heard. That has religious overtones."
Of renewables such as wind farms, he says they make sense only if they are "economic". But he adds: "Mostly they are non-economic. They are made economic by government incentives. The poor taxpayer is paying out for these misguided conceptions."
He adds: "A lot of the people I have talked to in the UK government are well-intentioned and think they are saving the world. They have suppressed their critical faculties because they think they are doing good."
Dr Buckee believes his views are widespread although not always voiced.
"I think it is the dominant view in professional science circles," he says.
"I know lots of people in universities and so on and quite often they have to retire before they can say what they want because it's so frowned upon."
Although he spent his career in the oil and gas industry, he denies having any vested interest.
"A vested interest would make me shut up because it would drag up controversy," he says. He adds that, while he was chief executive of Talisman, he did not make his views known, although he would explain them if asked.
Dr Buckee's belief in a solar explanation, a view expounded on a vast array of websites, is familiar to those in the climate change movement, who argue it has been discounted.
Several studies have dismissed it as a possible explanation, including one by Professor Mike Lockwood from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, who found the amount of solar activity in the past two decades was inadequate to back up the theory.
Dr David Reay, a climate change scientist at the University of Edinburgh, says: "If we could explain everything through natural drivers it would be great.
"It's something we would all like to hear – that it's not our fault, that we can't do anything about it and that we can go on burning fossil fuels and having a nice time.
"But the science shows we are to a large part responsible for the climate changing."
He says global temperature changes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries could be explained "fairly well" by the solar theory, but not the extent of warming over recent decades. "Climate change isn't all down to human activities, but we can only explain the extent of it by greenhouse gas emissions," he says.
And he argues that if the solar explanation was true the planet should have cooled for the past 20 years, when actually it has warmed.
He believes that people will question Dr Buckee's views. "People are used to academics with all sorts of fancy-sounding titles coming out with views on whether we should have the MMR vaccine, or take Ecstasy, or go horse-riding. They are used to being sceptical and interrogating the facts.
"People should look at the facts and make up their own mind."
Duncan McLaren, the chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, says Dr Buckee's arguments are "nonsense".
He says: "There's no uncertainty that it's happening nor that humans are responsible for the vast majority of it.
"The uncertainty is about the scale and weight of climate change, and just how much we can tolerate before it becomes catastrophic."
He says those who refuse to believe in human-induced climate change are like people who refuse to believe in the theory of evolution.
He has been invited to the lecture, but says he very much doubts he will go. "I don't see any point in giving it any credence," he adds.
"The cosmic ray nonsense is just that – nonsense."
He says: "He might be a very entertaining speaker, but I don't think people will find anything of practical value in going to a talk like that."
He says the solar explanation has been thoroughly considered by climate scientists and has been rebutted on more than one occasion.
And he says people should put no weight on Dr Buckee's scientific background. "He has a scientific qualification. That's different from being a practising climate scientist," he says.
Mr McLaren says that, far from having their views suppressed, sceptics have been given too much exposure.
"It has been massively damaging on a public and political level that the views of a small minority of ill-informed sceptics have been given virtually equal weight to the consensus of the scientific community by the majority of the mainstream media," he says.
"Something that's contrary to the accepted wisdom is more likely to be seen as news. If a scientist stood up and said the IPCC was right, there wouldn't be any news."
He says it is "absolute nonsense" that the majority of professional scientists agree with Dr Buckee. Instead, he says those who are sceptical are taking the easy option.
"We don't like to feel that it's our fault because we drive a car, or take a foreign holiday, or heat the house," he says.
"It would be nice to not have to feel that it was a personal responsibility and I'm sure that for someone who has worked in the oil and gas industry all his life, these sort of psychological pressures are greater."
Evidence does not back solar activity theory, say scientists
IN THE lecture, Dr Jim Buckee will put forward the idea that solar activity is responsible for changes to the climate.
He will say the climate of the past few hundred years is a continuation of a normal process of gradual warming since the ice age 10,000 years ago.
During that time, he argues, there have been constant fluctuations. He believes those fluctuations are caused by varying solar activity.
When the sun is strong, it deflects cosmic rays from within and outside our galaxy. When the sun is weak, the rays enter the Earth's atmosphere and cause low cloud, which has a cooling effect.
He believes that, after a period of warming, the Earth is now entering a period of cooling that will last until 2030 or beyond.
It is just one of the many theories put forward by sceptics, who argue that humans are not responsible for climate change.
However, climate-change scientists argue that this theory, as well as the others, are unsatisfactory explanations.
It was a view put forward for climate change in the controversial television programme The Great Global Warming Swindle last year.
The makers questioned the existence of the scientific consensus on the causes of climate change, and put forward solar activity as an alternative explanation for the warming planet.
However, scientific studies have found that in the past two decades solar activity has been declining and could not therefore be used to explain the rapid rise of global temperatures.
Experts have concluded that the global warming cannot be ascribed to solar variability. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has assessed the evidence about global warming, has come to the conclusion that most of the increase in global temperatures is very likely due to increases in greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans.
It believes the probability that the warming is caused by natural climatic processes alone is less than 5 per cent.
The panel predicts that temperatures will rise by up to 6 deg during the 21st century, that sea levels will rise by up to 59cm and that there will be more frequent warm spells, heatwaves and heavy rainfall.
The panel also predicts there will be an increase in droughts, tropical cyclones and extreme high tides.