Apparently, with all of the focus on carbon dioxide as the dominant radiative forcing, climate scientists have completely missed an even greater factor: sheep. Not just any sheep, though - New Zealand sheep. In a very interesting satirical post, raypierre at RealClimate.org explains the “Sheep Albedo Feedback”:
The hypothesis begins with the simple observation that most sheep are white, and therefore have a higher albedo than the land on which they typically graze (see figure below). This effect is confirmed by the recent Sheep Radiation Budget Experiment. The next step in the chain of logic is to note that the sheep population of New Zealand has plummeted in recent years. The resulting decrease in albedo leads to an increase in absorbed Solar radiation, thus warming the planet
[…]The proof of the pudding is in the data, shown in the Figure below. Here, the Sheep Albedo Index is defined as the New Zealand Sheep population in each year, subtracted from the 2007 population. The index is defined that way because fewer sheep means lower albedo, and thus a positive radiative forcing. It can be seen that the recent warming can be explained entirely by the decline in the New Zealand sheep population, without any need to bring in any mysterious so-called “radiative forcing” from carbon dioxide, which doesn’t affect the sunlight (hardly) anyway — unlike Sheep Albedo.
In all seriousness, this post illustrates how just about anything can be “correlated” to temperature data, and then used to “debunk” the theory that carbon dioxide is causing climate change. I’m sure there will be skeptics who will jump on this bandwagon, just like every other skeptical bandwagon that has come along. In the event that I’m actually faced with a serious argument in favor of this theory, I’m not sure I would know how to respond, other than to say that it is simply preposterous to think that the population of sheep in New Zealand could have any measurable effect on warming our planet.
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