The Power of the Sun and the Futility of Net Zero

The drive for emissions targets (Net Zero and the like) is a primary focus of governments around the world. So what is Net Zero? It is the situation where the total carbon emissions arising directly or indirectly from human activities (such as the burning of fossil fuels) equal the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere (for instance by trees, plants and oceans, or by sequestration underground, or in some form of carbonate). It is, however, important to recognise that so-called Net Zero does not embrace natural carbon emissions which emanate from volcanoes, warming oceans and other natural sources, and which are substantially higher (around thirty times) than anthropogenic emissions.

The Net Zero target widely promulgated by governments, the media, and even big businesses eager to appease boh their shareholders and customers, has given credence to the hypothesis that anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide, and other so-called greenhouse gases, are largely responsible for climate change (and pretty well anything else that is happening on planet Earth!) by way of a “greenhouse effect”. This greenhouse hypothesis has become widely accepted despite the fact that it is unproven, and more importantly notwithstanding that it is entirely inconsistent with the climate history of the earth as preserved in the relatively recent as well as long-term geological record. But even if carbon dioxide is a significant contributor to global warming, since the anthropogenic component of total carbon emissions is small as compared to natural emissions, it is difficult indeed to see why Net Zero might have a material impact on climate.

I will not attempt here to revisit the plethora of widely researched and reported observational data which evidences the scientific inconsistencies of the climate change debate; rather, I have tried to distil the principal conclusions from a number of recent, disparate and independent research papers which provide direct and indirect evidence that manipulating anthropogenic carbon emissions will not have any material effect on the Earth’s climate. The originating papers are not an easy read for even a trained scientist, so my purpose is no more than to draw together some of the important findings which bear on the futility of emissions targets as a means of controlling climate. These recent studies are all entirely consistent with the alternative hypothesis that climate has been, and is, largely controlled by variations in the total solar irradiance incident on the Earth. Changes in total solar irradiance, as well as variations in cosmic ray flux, are both expressions of variations in the sun’s magnetic field, which variations are (through both direct and indirect mechanisms) well able to explain the climate history of the Earth on all time scales.

Taken together, these studies lead to the inescapable conclusion that the Net Zero target is an exercise in futility, and one that will have dire consequences for both developed and developing economies around the world. It is courtesy of Net Zero that we are witnessing not a climate emergency but a self-inflicted energy emergency.

The atmospheric greenhouse effect

The so-called atmospheric greenhouse effect is a mechanism commonly used to explain a contribution to the heating of the surface of the Earth from long-wavelength infrared (IR) radiation backscattered from gases in the atmosphere. This atmospheric greenhouse effect is entirely different from the heating mechanism in a physical greenhouse, such as one finds in domestic gardens, where the sought-after warming is essentially due to the suppression of convection; that is, it is not trapped infrared radiation which causes the warming but the suppression of air cooling. (It is tempting to draw a conclusion that the widely used terms greenhouse effect and greenhouse gases in the context of the climate debate are deliberate misnomers.)

In contrast, the atmospheric greenhouse effect generally rests on experimental and theoretical foundations from work in the nineteenth century by John Tyndall (Tyndall, J, 1861, On the Absorption and Radiation of Heat by Gases and Vapours ……., Philosophical Magazine, Ser 4, 22,169-194, and 1863, On Radiation through the Earth’s Atmosphere, Philosophical Magazine, Ser 4, 26, 30-54), whereby the surface of the Earth is primarily heated by radiation from the sun, because the Earth’s atmosphere is essentially transparent to the incident short-wavelength solar radiation. The solid and liquid surfaces of the Earth then re-emit long-wavelength IR radiation, which is captured by certain gases in the atmosphere and re-radiated in all directions. Part of this re-radiation does not escape the atmosphere and is backscattered towards the Earth’s surface, in theory contributing to increased surface temperatures. It is on this basis that increased emissions of greenhouse gases by human activity (principally carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels) are postulated to contribute to global warming through this greenhouse effect.

This greenhouse effect is the scientific foundation which underpins the deliberations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which in turn provided the scientific basis for the 2015 Paris Agreement under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is the Paris Agreement which binds its 196 signatories to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with a view to limiting global warming to 1.5 to 2.0 degrees, and which has now morphed into Net Zero. These related targets would appear prima facie to take no account of inevitable temperature increases (and decreases) arising from well-understood cyclicities in solar irradiance. It is perhaps telling in this regard that the IPCC’s Constitution (on formation in 1988) defines its role thus:

The role of the IPCC is to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaption and mitigation.

Even more alarmingly, the UNFCCC, an international environmental treaty adopted in 1992 and a forerunner of the so-called Kyoto Protocol, in its Articles defines climate change as:

a change in climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability over comparable time periods.

It must follow from the highly restricted mandates of both the IPCC and UNFCCC that any scientific conclusion that they promulgate can be no better than their assumptions on natural climate variability (which on any measure would appear to range between poor and mischievous by omission).

Not all scientists agree that the greenhouse effect is important, or even scientifically valid. Gerlich and Tscheuschner (2009, Falsification of The Atmospheric CO2 Greenhouse Effects Within the Frame of Physics, International Journal of Modern Physics B, Vol 23, No 03, 275-364: controversially describe the effect as “a fictitious mechanism”, “contrary to the second law of thermodynamics”, and “not real or on a firm scientific foundation”. A fundamental basis of their detailed and lengthy arguments is that there is no foundation for the assumption implicit in the greenhouse effect that radiative heat transfer clearly dominates other forms of heat transfer such as conduction, convection and condensation.

Fortunately, for my purposes here, I do not need to rely on the validity or otherwise of the atmospheric greenhouse effect, because even assuming it is real there are strong arguments that further increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide will not have any material effect on global temperatures. This proposition is elegantly explained by William Happer in his appropriately titled 2020 article “There is no climate emergency … Renewable energy is the inverse Robin Hood strategy … doubling CO2 makes no difference” ( And by Happer and Richard Lindzen, “Climate Emergency? Not So Fast!”.] Although both these articles are written for lay readers, and so are unlikely to have been peer-reviewed, Lindzen and Happer have impeccable academic credentials, being respectively emeritus professors at Princeton University (Happer, Physics) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Lindzen, Atmospheric Sciences); the-peer reviewed science on which they are based is in any event extensively referenced in the articles. What is important is that both authors clearly conclude that at current concentrations, the forcings from all the greenhouse gases are saturated. That is to say that even a doubling of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would have no material greenhouse effect—a result that totally undermines the Net Zero goal.

Standard scientific method entails collecting observational data, developing a hypothesis to explain the data, and designing and conducting an experiment to test the hypothesis; from which follows acceptance, modification or abandonment of the hypothesis. This scientific rigour has been sadly lacking in the climate change debate, and it is perhaps surprising that enterprising scientists have not attempted to replicate the greenhouse effect in the laboratory—until recently.

Norwegian scientists Thorstein Seim and Borgar Olsen have recently reported on laboratory experiments designed to simulate the greenhouse effect, and the results were startling (Seim T.O. and Olsen, B.T.,2020, The Influence of IR Absorption and Backscatter Radiation fron CO2 on Air Temperature during Heating in a Simulated Earth/Atmosphere Experiment, Atmospheric and Climate Sciences, 10, 168-185. The temperature increases observed with progressively increasing carbon dioxide levels in air were very much less than predicted by the standard Stefan Boltzmann’s law, and vastly less than predicted by the even more aggressive formulation used in the IPCC modelling. The results of these direct experiments are entirely consistent with the earlier conclusion that even doubling carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere would have no material affect on global temperatures.

These same Norwegian scientists later in 2020 (Seim, T.O. and Olsen, B.T., 2020, Unexpected Relationships between Thermal and Radiative Energy Transfer. Atmospheric and Climate Sciences, 10, 639-651. ) reported on further laboratory experiments investigating relationships between thermal and radiative energy transfer, finding (surprisingly) that the heating of an IR-absorbing object (like the surface of the Earth, warmed by the sun) does not warm the overlying air to the extent that might be expected. Since global land temperatures’ input to IPCC climate modelling are measured in the air above the Earth’s surface, these findings would be expected to have a significant impact on the veracity of that modelling.

Taken together, these studies provide direct evidence that the reliance on the greenhouse effect as a principal causal mechanism of global warming is, at best, flawed. Indirect evidence leads to the same conclusion: it is no surprise that the IPCC modelling, which relies on a particularly aggressive formulation of the greenhouse effect, has failed spectacularly in predicting temperature changes since the models were first published some sixteen years ago—a failure only recently conceded by some of the modellers. The bulk of the models predicted warming some 2.8 times faster than has been observed, and yet have been front-and-centre in convincing decision-makers on the need to pursue Net Zero. Only one model in the IPCC suite of models—model INM-CM4—has come close to predicting what has been observed, and, tellingly, interrogation of that model reveals that its developers relied on natural forcings rather than greenhouse effects. (Model INM is shown deviating from the other IPCC models in, for instance, Figure 7 in Lindzen and Happer (2021) referenced earlier.)

There are some who claim that much of the increase in the carbon dioxide in the modern atmosphere derives from fossil fuel burning in the 170 years or so since the start of the industrial revolution, based as I understand it from emerging data on carbon isotopes in the atmosphere (as captured in ice core data). Difficult as this is to rationalise while natural emissions (for instance from degassing of warming oceans) have remained unabated, it should provide no comfort for the anthropogenic global warming protagonists; because even if correct, the fact that the gradient of temperature increase over that period (a little over one degree over 170 years) has been essentially constant, and entirely consistent with the increase in solar irradiance over the same period, lends significant weight to the argument that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide can not be a principal driver of global temperature increases.

Can solar cycles explain climate change?

The history of the Earth’s climate since it formed 4.5 billion years ago is preserved in the geological record. The profound changes in climate (and prevailing carbon dioxide levels) over that history are clearly not explicable by anthropogenic emissions, a phenomenon of the last 170 years. The obvious explanation lies with the dynamics of the Sun-Earth interaction, because the sun is the main source of energy for all planets in the solar system by way of solar radiation (“solar irradiance”).

The direct effects of the sun on the Earth’s climate arise through variations in the flux of solar energy incident on the Earth. This solar irradiance is affected by various oscillations of the sun’s magnetic field, and it has long been recognised that these variations are manifest in the numbers of sunspots on the surface of the sun. It is only relatively recently, however, in a series of publications by Valentina Zharkova and co-authors (Zharkova et al, 2020, Erratum- baseline magnetic field oscillations: possible SIM effects on solar irradiance and temperature at Earth, and her earlier papers referenced therein) that discrepancies in the predictability of sunspot numbers have been rationalised through a new understanding of internal solar dynamos.

The important conclusions from Zharkova’s ground-breaking research are:

  • Long-term oscillations of the solar background magnetic field associated with double dynamo waves generated in the inner and outer layers of the sun indicate that solar activity is heading in the next three decades (2019 to 2055) to a grand minimum similar to the famous Maunder minimum (1645 to 1715) (when the River Thames famously froze over)
  • A double dynamo summary curve of magnetic field variations over the past 100,000 years confirms strong oscillations of solar activity in eleven-year and (“grand cycle”) 350 to 400-year cycles, which together well explain the increase in total solar irradiance since the Maunder minimum, and which correlate closely with the increase of average terrestrial temperature
  • Oscillations of “baseline” magnetic field with a period of 1950 +/- 95 years are closely linked to a gradual increase of solar irradiance and terrestrial temperature in the past two centuries. This increasing trend is forecast to continue increasing for the next six centuries and increase terrestrial temperatures by more than 2.5 deg (Net Zero or no Net Zero!)
  • The summary curve of solar magnetic field reveals a remarkable resemblance to the terrestrial temperature reported in past millennia, including the grand solar minima (Maunder 1645 to 1715; Wolf 1200; Oort 1010 to 1050; Homer 800 to 900 BC) and maxima (Medieval warm period 900 to 1200; Roman warm period 400 to 10 BC).

It is evident from the work of Zharkova and her collaborators that climatic cycles on Earth can be well explained over short and long time intervals by variations in solar activity. (Although not discussed here, there are also important indirect effects of variations on the Sun’s magnetic field on the Earth’s climate. For example, variations in the Sun’s magnetic field affects the flux of cosmic radiation on the Earth, which in turn is postulated to seed reflective cloud cover. This and other indirect effects would contribute to the fine structure of climatic variations in addition to the effects described above.)

Unlike much of modern so-called climate science, the accuracy of the predictions of models based entirely on variations in solar irradiance well supports the veracity of these models.

There is a further important finding in an editorial by Zharkova ( Zharkova, Valentina (2020), Modern Grand Solar Minimum will lead to terrestial cooling, DOI:10.1080/23328940.2020.1796243; Although oscillations in solar activity on an eleven-year cycle are a natural consequence of her double dynamo model, George Ellery Hale, in 1908, postulated that a complete magnetic cycle spans two eleven-year solar cycles, or about twenty-two years ( see Hale et al, 1919, The Magnetic Polarity of Sunspots, The Astrophysical Journal, 49, 153). However, it is a consequence of Zharkova’s postulated solar dynamo mechanism that (quoting her editorial):

Magnetic field of sunspots forms a toroidal field while solar background magnetic field forms a poloidal field. Solar dynamo cyclically converts poloidal field into toroidal one reaching its maximum at a solar cycle maximum and then the toroidal field back to the poloidal one toward a solar minimum. It is evident that for the same leading polarity of the magnetic field in sunspots in the same hemisphere, the solar cycle length should be extended to twenty-two years.

So the solar double dynamo model provides a convincing explanation for the so-called Hale cycle.

This twenty-two-year cyclicity is important in the context of establishing an association between the Hale cycle and the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) (see Judith Curry, 2019,   Moreover, in a recent paper by Robert J. Leamon and other NASA scientists, (Leamon et al., 2021, Termination of Solar Cycles and Correlated Tropospheric Variability. Earth and Space Science, Vol 8,

an analysis of six decades of observations establishes a close correlation between so-called Terminators—events with a twenty-two-year cycle (Hale cycles)—and the largest swings of the Earth’s oceanic indices. These large swings in ENSO, and its northern hemisphere counterpart, the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), have long been correlated with decadal-scale massive shifts in terrestrial weather patterns. Linking such swings to these terminator events, a direct manifestation of solar activity well explained by Zharkova’s double dynamo model obviates the need for any explanation in terms of anthropogenic climate change; and should make possible superior prediction of important climatic cycles. It is notable that Leamon’s paper makes no reference to the work of Zharkova and her colleagues.


A review of recently published (and mostly peer-reviewed, for what that is worth) independent research provides both direct and indirect evidence that anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide, and other so-called greenhouse gases, do not provide a credible explanation for climate change on any time scale and are untenable. With recent advances in the understanding of solar dynamics there is a compelling alternative explanation for climate change on all time scales solely in terms of variations in solar irradiance incident on the Earth. So the Net Zero target is an exercise in futility, and one that will have dire consequences for both developed and developing economies around the world, already evident in the burgeoning energy crisis.

David King holds a PhD in Seismology from ANU, and has had a long career in natural resource industries (mostly oil and gas). He is a non-executive director of a helium development company.

One thought on “The Power of the Sun and the Futility of Net Zero

  • rozman1 says:

    A great article David. I am always impressed with the insight geologists can provide regarding the 4.5Bn year history of our planet, in a world where most people only understand what they have seen in their lifetime.

    Having read every IPCC report written over the years, I have always found the covering summary a very politicised document. The hypotheses presented in the body of the IPCC papers are often inconclusive and have never convinced me that the robust conclusions in the summary are justified.

    Louis R

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