By Howard Hayden
The following was written in response to an article by Todd Stern - Washington Post.
Todd Stern's belief is that we must be guided by both science and pragmatism in order to contain climate change. One wonders exactly what pragmatic actions he would have taken to prevent the last 650,000 years' worth of ice-age / interglacial cycles. With whom would "the State Department's top climate-change negotiator" undertake discussions to keep those climate changes from occurring?
If Mr. Stern wants to be guided by science, it would be a good idea for him to look at a few obvious proofs. First and foremost is the oft-heard claim that "the science is settled." If that's the case, then why are there climate models (plural)? If the models were indeed based on sound science, there would be precisely one climate model, and it would agree with the facts. (In fact, the models have some severe disagreements among themselves.) (Read: I have one graph showing a disagreement of a factor of 5,000 in a certain factor between models.)
Mr. Stern wants to stampede us into an abrupt termination of the combustion that brings us 85 percent of our energy, saying that "we have no choice but to make serious cuts in global warming pollution, fast." Evidently, he has bought into the "tipping-point" notion.
We have all experienced the screech that happens when a microphone gets too close to the speaker. If, instead of turning down the amplifier or moving the microphone, we left the room and locked the door, the screech would continue indefinitely. That is the nature of a tipping point.
But the earth has experienced far higher carbon dioxide levels in the past than exist now, up to about twenty times present concentration. If those levels were to lead to a tipping point, the earth would have become intolerably hot and remained that way in perpetuity. We wouldn't be here wringing our hands over 0.038 percent of the atmosphere that is our CO2 concentration.
Carbon dioxide is soluble in water, but not equally at all temperatures. As the water warms up, the less CO2 it can hold. And where does that CO2 go when the water warms up? Into the air, of course. In fact, the warm parts of the oceans emit roughly 15 times as much CO2 as all of mankind's consumption of coal, oil, and natural gas. Numerous scientific papers, including one in the 13 April issue of Science Magazine, show that climate changes have preceded changes in CO2 concentration. The notion that CO2 changes caused those climate changes is a violation of the First Principle of Causality, which says that the cause has to come before the effect.
Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth" shows a correlation between CO2 concentration and global temperature for the last 650,000 years. He says with authority (if not with scientific veracity) that "when there is more carbon dioxide, the temperature gets warmer." And precisely where did that CO2 come from that was supposedly the cause of the warming? And precisely where did it go when its absence supposedly caused the descent into the next ice age? And why were the changes so closely linked to the periodically varying sun-earth interactions (called Milankovitch cycles after the Serbian mathematician)?
Yes, the CO2 concentration in the air is increasing, and yes, we are producing lots of CO2 by burning fuels. But does that mean that our combustion is actually responsible for the increase?
Consider a related question. It's cold outside and warm inside. We turn on some lights to read the newspaper. Does the heat from the lamps cause the room to warm up? No, the thermostat simply calls for less heat from the furnace. That is the nature of a self-regulated system. The oceans and the biosphere control the CO2 concentration.
Put it another way. We know from actual data that atmospheric CO2 concentration was already increasing long before human contributions could possibly have made a dent. How much CO2 would there be in the air right now if man had never learned to make a fire? Nobody knows. Therefore nobody knows whether mankind has had any influence over that quantity.
Depending on the level of zealotry, some climate alarmists have called for a reduction in CO2 emissions of up to 80 percent. Perhaps Mr. Stern ought to take a sober look at the inevitable consequences. Maybe he'll discover that it's a program of national suicide motivated by a case of hiccups.
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* The author is a Professor Emeritus of Physics, University of Connecticut, now living in Pueblo West, Colorado.
He is the author of A Primer on CO2 and Climate (Vales Lake Publishing, LLC.)
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