Some Global Warming Q&As To Consider in Light of the EPA Ruling
On a whole, Antarctica has not warmed. And because it is so cold there, even a few degrees of warming will not cause the ice sheet to melt anyway. In fact, as can be seen in the following graph, sea ice around Antarctica has increased over the same 30-year period of time that Arctic sea ice has decreased.
ISN’T CARBON DIOXIDE A DANGEROUS GAS?
Well if you breathe pure CO2, you will die — from a lack of oxygen, not because CO2 is poisonous. But if you breathe pure oxygen for very long, that will also kill you. Carbon dioxide is necessary for life on Earth; photosynthesis by plants on land and by plankton in the ocean depend upon it. And without those forms of life, all the animals (and we humans) would die as well. For something as essential as CO2, it verges on the bizarre for people like Al Gore to liken carbon dioxide to sewage.
BUT WE CAN’T KEEP PUMPING CO2 INTO THE ATMOSPHERE FOREVER, CAN WE?
No…and we won’t. But the amount of CO2 we put into the atmosphere is pretty trivial: As of 2009, there are only 38 or 39 molecules of CO2 for every 100,000 molecules of atmosphere, and it will take mankind’s CO2 emissions another five years to raise that total by 1 molecule, to 40 out of every 100,000 molecules. The following graph shows how much the CO2 content of the atmosphere has risen in the last 50 years at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. The graph has a vertical scale that only extends to 1% of the atmosphere, and as can be seen, the increase in CO2 is barely visible. This graph is not a trick…it looks different from what you are used to seeing because CO2 is usually plotted with a greatly magnified vertical scale to make the CO2 rise look more dramatic. Yes, we might double the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere by late in this century…but 2 times a very small number is still a very small number.
ISN’T CO2 THE ATMOSPHERE’S MAIN GREENHOUSE GAS?
No. Water vapor accounts for about 85% or 90% of the Earth’s natural greenhouse effect, clouds account for another 5% or 10%. CO2 represents only about 3%, methane even less. You will see quite a bit of variability in the above percentages because they can only be calculated based upon theory, and involve a variety of assumptions. I have greatest confidence in the 3% number for the CO2 portion, which we have verified with our own calculations: The direct effect of doubling of CO2 would only be a 1 deg. C warming of the surface (this is not disputed, see below), and when you compare that to the 33 deg. C of surface warming due to all greenhouse components of the atmosphere, you get 3%.
BUT DON’T THE COMPUTER CLIMATE MODELS PREDICT SERIOUS GLOBAL WARMING…EVEN FROM THE LITTLE BIT OF EXTRA CO2 IN THE ATMOSPHERE?
Yes, but most of the warming produced by climate models is NOT directly from the CO2, but from assumed changes in clouds and water vapor in response to the small CO2-induced warming tendency. And this is the models’ Achilles heel. While all of those models now change clouds with warming in ways that amplify that warming, some by a catastrophic amount, there is increasing evidence that clouds in the real climate system behave in just the opposite way (peer reviewed papers of ours here and here). This could result in a doubling of atmospheric CO2 causing less than 1 deg. F of warming by the end of this century.
BUT WE’VE ALREADY SEEN 1 DEGREE OF WARMING…SO, WHAT COULD HAVE CAUSED IT?
My latest research (as yet unpublished) suggests most of the warming we’ve experienced in the last 100 years is due to natural changes in cloud cover…possibly caused by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation mentioned above. Something climate modelers apparently don’t appreciate is that it would only take about a 1% change in global cloud cover to cause ‘global warming’. Curiously, climate modelers do not believe this happens. Exactly why they don’t, I haven’t been able to figure out. Probably because we’ve not had accurate enough long-term observations of global cloud cover to document any such changes. But just because such changes are too small for us to measure doesn’t mean they do not exist. Most of us who were trained as meteorologists find 1% changes in global cloud cover to be entirely plausible, probably the result of natural, chaotic changes in weather patterns coupled to small chaotic changes in ocean circulation.
HASN’T THE “FINGERPRINT” OF MANMADE WARMING ALREADY BEEN FOUND?
No. Climate modelers claim they can only explain global warming by including greenhouse gas increases in their models. But that claim is based upon 2 critical assumptions: (1) the climate system is very sensitive to increasing CO2, a consequence of their climate models not handling clouds properly, and (2) as mentioned above, a lack of accurate observations over a long enough period of time to document potential natural, and stronger, warming mechanisms…such as a slight decrease in global cloud cover letting more sunlight in.
Another “fingerprint” claim is that global warming has been stronger over land than ocean, as would be expected with more greenhouse gases. But warming of the oceans and land in response to fewer clouds would be indistinguishable from warming caused by more carbon dioxide. A decrease in oceanic cloudiness would warm the oceans, which would then send more humid airmasses over land. And since water vapor is our main greenhouse gas, the land will warm in response. The land warming would be then be stronger than the ocean warming because the heat capacity of land is less than that of the ocean. So, don’t be fooled when you hear claims that the “fingerprint” of manmade warming has been found…it hasn’t. In fact, there is no known human “fingerprint”.
HAVEN’T SEVERE WEATHER EVENTS LIKE HURRICANES BECOME MORE COMMON IN RECENT YEARS?
No, only storm damage has increased. This is because people keep building along coastlines and in other areas prone to severe weather. And the more stuff we build, the more targets there are for hurricanes and tornadoes to destroy. Some of the records you have heard about for strongest hurricane, etc., are mostly because our technological ability to measure these storms has improved so much in recent years. There is no way to know if some recent storms (e.g. Katrina when it was in the central Gulf of Mexico) were stronger than major hurricanes that occurred in the early 20th Century, before we had weather radar, high resolution satellite data, and instrumented planes to fly into them.
WHAT ABOUT OCEAN ACIDIFICATION FROM MORE CO2?
The chemistry of the ocean is still poorly understood from the standpoint of how it varies over time, and how it is controlled. There is a common view among oceanographers that extra atmospheric CO2 has caused the average pH of the ocean to be reduced from 8.18 to 8.10 since the start of the Industrial Revolution. But pH varies widely across the global oceans, and that estimated decrease is more of a ‘theoretically-calculated expectation’ than it is an actual observation. A minority view I have heard is that the buffering capacity of the ocean will prevent ocean acidification. In fact, recent evidence suggests that (just like plants on land) plankton in the ocean will grow faster and be more abundant with more CO2 in the atmosphere.
AREN’T SPECIES GOING EXTINCT EVERY DAY DUE TO GLOBAL WARMING?
Generally speaking, there is no way to know if any species are going extinct. We would have to inventory all of the life that exists on every acre of the Earth to determine this, and as it is, science is discovering new species all the time. And, as discussed above, even if warming is causing some species to become extinct, that warming is likely to be mostly natural anyway. As is the case with climate models, statistics about species extinctions are largely theoretical calculations, based upon dubious assumptions. And in science, it is always the long-held assumptions that end up misleading us.
SHOULDN’T WE BE GETTING OFF FOSSIL FUELS ANYWAY, NO MATTER WHAT THE SCIENCE SAYS?
We eventually will…but right now there are no energy technologies that can offer replacements on the massive scale of what humanity needs for energy on a daily basis. Solar, wind, biofuels, only nibble around the edges of the problem, and they bring their own disadvantages (e.g. environmental impacts of wind and solar, rising food prices from diverting corn production from food to fuel). Both government (using your tax dollars) and private industry (using part of the money you spend on goods and services) have been researching new energy technologies for decades. The free market is the best way to solve this problem because, whoever develops new cost-effective energy technologies stands to make a fortune.
You can not simply legislate new sources of energy into existence. And if you try, economies will be hurt – if not decimated. The world’s poor, those living on the edge of the economy, will be the first to suffer. Since energy is required for everything we do, an increase in energy prices translates directly into more expensive goods and services across the economy.
And given the global nature of trade and business, misguided energy policies at home will simply drive many companies to other countries…where they can pollute even more than they used to here in the U.S..
SOME FINAL REMARKS ABOUT SCIENCE
There is a time-honored tradition in science that has led to a general public distrust of scientists: extrapolation into the future. Even in the 1800’s this failing of science was recognized:
“There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture from such a trifling investment of fact.”
-Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)
As an example, consider the record low water level in Lake Superior experienced in 1926, shown in the graph below:
Here is what an ‘expert’ from that time said about the record-low lake levels (try not to laugh too hard):
“Ultimate extinction of the American side of the falls at Niagara is mathematically certain unless water levels in the Great Lakes are raised.”
-Daily Mining Journal, May 27, 1926.
Now, that wild statement was probably true in a literal sense. Note that it coveyed a maximum amount of alarm without being factually false. And this is exactly the same kind of prose contained in the Policymakers Summary of the latest (2007) report from U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a document that purposely minimizes any scientific uncertainties about anthropogenic global warming, while at the same time maximizing alarm.
Ultimately, fears of manmade global warming, species extinction, and ocean acidification arise from scientists not fully understanding the checks and balances which exist in nature. Nature is not static, but causes its own, internally-generated changes – both in climate and in biological systems. The common view that nature is in some sort of “delicate” balance is a romantic or religious opinion, and it is a view even held by most scientists. But balances in nature are always readjusting, either to internal forces or external forces. Nature is dynamic, not static. Just because a state of balance might be observed at any point in history does not mean that balance is in any way “delicate”.
Why is it OK for the presence of trees on Earth to change ecosystems and the climate system, but not for the presence of humans? Yes, nature must adjust to the presence of humans, but animals and plants are always adjusting to the presence of other animals and plants, anyway. Conferring these rights to plants and animals, but not to ourselves, makes absolutely no sense.
And since there is abundant scientific evidence that nature prefers more CO2 in the atmosphere, we need to seriously consider the possibility that burning of fossil fuels is, on balance, a good thing for life on Earth.
THE EPA IS ABOUT TO CAUSE A REGULATORY TRAIN WRECK
The US Chamber of Commerce has just issued a concise statement of the consequences of the EPA’s endangerment ruling, and it is a good introduction to the policy implications of the ruling.
I am told by those in the know that, if the EPA’s endangerment finding stands, it can then be used to justify any action to control energy policy and economic activity. Because the Clean Air Act is exempt from cost/benefit analysis, it does not matter if regulations end up causing ten times more harm than good. It is EPA’s job to regulate ‘pollutants’…not to worry about whether there will even be an economy to regulate in the future.
New regulations on CO2 emissions for new cars and trucks based on the endangerment finding will follow quickly. Numerous lawsuits to apply those auto regulations to other sections in the Clean Air Act will spread like wildfire. Many of these lawsuits are already in the system.
Folks, this is nothing like fixing the stratospheric ozone problem by developing other refrigerants to replace Freon. CO2 is produced by nearly all sources of energy. CO2 is a part of nature; Freon was a manmade chemical. While replacements for Freon were already developed by the time Freon was banned, we have no large-scale replacements for fossil fuels we can switch to in the near future.
This issue is at least as important as our recent global financial crisis – probably more so in the long run. It has been said that regulating carbon dioxide emissions will make the United States the cleanest Third World country on Earth. And whoever controls carbon dioxide emissions will control the world.
Finally, you can expect that the threat of the EPA regulating CO2 will cause many politicians and pundits to advocate congressional cap-and-trade legislation as a more palatable alternative. But the choice will be like deciding whether you want to die quickly or slowly. Either one will be lethal.
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