We’re publishing a guest post by journalist Chris Morrison questioning whether rising CO2 levels really will lead to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures. Should we instead be worrying about the risks of falling levels of CO2?
Phew what a relief – along came humans just in time to rescue planet Earth by releasing a portion of carbon sequestered in the ground to finally put the brake on the carbon dioxide famine that was threatening to wipe out all living life forms.
Implausible? Well, the hypothesis is unproven, although it is promoted by many eminent scientists. But then the suggestion that small increases in atmospheric CO2 are leading to runaway global heating and climate breakdown is also an unproven scientific hypothesis supported by many eminent scientists.
What is certain is that the science is not yet settled, despite the increasingly successful efforts of neo-Marxist green activists, useful idiot journalists, here today-gone tomorrow politicians and grant-hungry, self-identifying ‘scientists’ to whip up a ‘climate emergency’ that can only be addressed by a massive increase in state intervention, control and power.
Earlier this year Steven Koonin, an Under-Secretary of Science in the Obama Administration, published a book titled Unsettled in which he noted that “the science is insufficient to make useful projections about how the climate will change over the coming decades, much less what our actions will have on it”.
He also noted that “rigidly promulgating the idea that climate change is ‘settled’ (or is a ‘hoax’) demeans and chills the scientific enterprise, retarding its progress in these important matters. Uncertainty is a prime mover and motivator of science and must be faced head on.”
Behind the current climate hysteria is the suggestion that placing more CO2 into the atmosphere by humans burning fossil fuel will cause global temperatures to rise since the gas traps the sun’s heat reflected from Earth. It is true that CO2 acts as a greenhouse gas, but only within certain bands on the infrared spectrum. This has led some scientists, notably Professor William Happer of Princeton University, to suggest that CO2 becomes “saturated” once it reaches a certain level. Most, if not all, the heat that is going to be trapped will have already been radiated back by the CO2 molecules evenly distributed in the existing atmosphere.
This suggestion certainly explains why there is little or no correlation between temperatures and CO2 levels on a current, historical or geological timescale. CO2 levels have risen steadily over the last 100 years despite temperatures rising from 1910-40, falling until around 1980, (remember the global cooling scare?) rising briefly for 20 years and then plateauing for the last two decades. Further back, CO2 levels seemed to have remained fairly constant through the warmings of 6,000 years ago and the Roman and Mediaeval periods. The subsequent ‘little ice age’ also registered no significant CO2 change. Since about 1820, temperatures and CO2 levels started to nudge upwards long before any human input could have been significant. Looking back further into geological time reveals little obvious pattern across nearly 600 million years. A massive jump in temperature in the Permian period occurred as the CO2 level fell. During the time of the dinosaurs, temperatures showed a fall as CO2 rose and then jumped higher as CO2 trended down.
The atmosphere is a chaotic place. Water vapour is also a greenhouse gas and is far more plentiful in the atmosphere than CO2. The natural carbon cycle along with countless other influences means it is probably beyond reasonable measurement. Climate models have been around for 40 years making guesses about global warming that are politically correct, but almost certainly factually wrong. Koonin is unimpressed with their efficacy, noting that they struggle even to replicate the past. In the absence of clear answers from climate science, almost all net zero political policy is based on the outputs of unreliable models.
CO2 accounts for just over 400 parts per million (ppm) of the atmosphere and some climate models assume global temperatures will rise by up to 6C if levels double. It is just that – an assumption. Given that it is actually a guess and some evidence that the greenhouse effect drops significantly once a base CO2 level is reached, the hypothesis is unproven and certainly not ‘settled’ with any credible, peer reviewed science.
What do know however is that hundreds of millions of years of life on Earth have drawn down much of the easily available carbon that existed in former times. Life has thrived during this period but gradually carbon has been sequested by dead plant matter and animals in coal deposits and various rocks including limestone and marble. Dr. Patrick Moore, one of the original founders of Greenpeace, notes that 99.9% of all carbon that has ever entered the atmosphere has been captured in this way. Over 500 million years, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere has fallen from 15,000 billion tones to just 850 billion today. The scale of carbon captured in this way is not disputed by other scientists who suggest 90% of carbon has been locked up over geological time.
The level of atmospheric CO2 is at an all-time geological low. If it goes much lower, say to around 180 ppm, plant and human life starts to struggle. But in just the last 40 years the small uptick in CO2 has led to an estimated 14% extra vegetation on the Earth, alleviating food shortages and famine in many parts of the world. It is unsurprising that Moore is relaxed about more CO2 in the atmosphere. Dr. Roy Spencer, the former Senior Scientist for Climate Studies at NASA, also notes that plants benefit from higher levels of CO2, adding “it is amazing how little there is in the atmosphere”.
All of which begs the question – shouldn’t we be talking about the risk of falling levels of CO2? The cost of net zero is almost unimaginable and the potential for economic and societal disruption on a global scale is the stuff of nightmares. Removing 85% of the world’s energy by banning fossil fuels within just 35 years and replacing them with unreliable and expensive renewables is pure fantasy. Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to do it?
Koonin’s book is important. The author still holds that CO2 is a potential danger. At one point he seems to accept that water vapour has saturation qualities but he is less keen to attribute those properties to CO2. At another, he suggests doubling CO2 in the atmosphere will lead to a 3C rise in temperature, a suggestion that lies at the heart of erroneous model forecasts. He draws attention to past abundant life on Earth in atmospheres with up to 10 times current CO2 levels. But he explains that they were “different plants and animals” – which as a “dinosaur ate my homework” excuse will just have to do.
But the book is the work of an intelligent scientist who realises that the days are drawing to a close when all debate on the science backing net zero can be crushed by saying it is settled. As with many independent commentators, he is particularly contemptuous about attempts to keep the hysteria alive by cherry picking bad weather events. It might take the mainstream media led by the BBC, Sky and the Guardian a little longer to come around, but expecting citizens to accept massive changes to their ways of life on the basis of patently false doomsday predictions only works for so long – as we’re starting to see with Covid. Just before his death, Clive James discussed climate scares and noted that after a while people switch over to watch Games of Thrones, “where the dialogue is less ridiculous and all the threats come true”.