Weather Forecast


Westgard's column had serious errors

Recently, an article written by Rolf Westgard (Feb. 11, 2014), about climate change contained some serious and basic errors of fact. It is permissible to have your own opinions but for a complex science topic like climate change, it is inappropriate to present demonstrably false opinions as fact. So, where did he go wrong?

Perhaps the most serious error was Mr. Westgard’s claim that clouds are water vapor. No, they are not. Water vapor is a clear colorless gas made of water molecules. Clouds are condensed water (in liquid or ice form) and the droplets typically appear white. Mr. Westgard also stated that clouds cool the planet. This isn’t always true. It depends on what type of clouds, where they are, and their elevation. Some clouds actually warm the planet by blocking heat from escaping to space.

Finally, Mr. Westgard claims that clouds are a thermostat that kept Earth temperatures within a narrow range during interglacial periods. This is wrong on many accounts. First, the “narrow” range he mentions was large enough to cause huge ice sheets to exist in this part of the country year round. Second, interglacial climate change was driven by changes to the Earth’s orbit and gas emissions from the oceans, not by clouds. Mr. Westgard should know that most studies show changes to clouds in the future will cause more warming, not less.

How could someone make such elementary errors? From what I can tell, Mr. Westgard is a concerned citizen with no expertise in the subject; he has never studied climate change and he has never published on the topic. This is why we listen to real experts to guide us.

Of course, it is hard to get too excited about climate change after a winter like this, but climate change is real and it is significantly contributing to severe weather swings we are seeing around the world and in the U.S.. Taking appropriate action to handle this problem requires accurate information, not fanciful opinion.

DR. JOHN ABRAHAM teaches at the School of Engineering at the University of St. Thomas.