Another Fundamental Problem with Alarmist Climate ScienceAlan Carlin | August 12, 2016
There are so many holes in the climate alarmist narrative that it is difficult to even keep track of them. The wonder is that the alarmists have gotten as far as they have with so many holes in their narrative. This blog has discussed a number of them, including:
- The high costs/even impossibility of fully substituting wind and solar for fossil fuel energy.
- The failure of the catastrophic anthropogenic global warming hypothesis to satisfy the scientific method.
- The lack of any measurable effects of USEPA mandated changes in US CO2 emissions even according to USEPA computations on global emissions since major emitters in the less developed world have not agreed to similar cuts.
Another major hole in the alarmist narrative is that it is becoming increasingly evident that the alarmists have gotten climate science exactly backwards. This has made the value of their principal policy recommendation (reduce human CO2 emissions) even more ill-founded than it already was. But they have been in a great hurry to implement policies that will have little or no effect at huge cost to taxpayers and rate payers.
The history is that USEPA simply rolled over and endorsed the scientific nonsense of the incoming Obama Administration perhaps because any career employee who opposed the nonsense would have been exiled. The Obama Administration “knew” the answer and rejected or even ridiculed the advice of anyone who accurately analyzed the science. Since Obama claims that climate is one of his signature issues, the judgment of history may not be very favorable towards his Administration.
Why Getting the Science Right Is So Important
Unless governments get the science right, policies dependent on getting the science right will be wrong. The Obama Administration was in such a hurry to implement the climate recommendations of the UN and many environmental organizations that they short-circuited the few procedural safeguards EPA had to try to guarantee objective consideration of the science and compressed the review schedule to the point that substantive internal reviews were limited to 4-5 days on highly complex scientific issues. I was the only one to attempt to meet this absurd schedule with a substantive scientific analysis.
One of the most fundamental scientific gaps in the alarmist narrative concerns whether (1) global temperatures are the primary determinants of global carbon dioxide levels or whether (2) carbon dioxide levels determine global temperatures and that increased human-caused CO2 emissions will lead to higher atmospheric CO2 levels. EPA, the UN, the Obama Administration, and all involved environmental groups managed to get it wrong by arguing that (2) is correct; this does not prove that (1) is correct, but (1) does appear to fit the observable data, unlike (2).
How do I know? Because the available evidence points to (1), not (2). Some of this evidence is presented in my book and more can be found in the literature, such as that authored by Tom Quirk and Murry Salby.
If the CAGW hypothesis is correct major increases in human-caused CO2 emissions should result in a substantial increase in the rate of increase in atmospheric CO2 levels. After all, the alarmists maintain that decreasing human CO2 emissions will slow or even prevent global temperatures from increasing by reducing the rate of increase in atmospheric CO2 levels. But Dr. Murry Salby has recently claimed that human-caused CO2 emissions doubled in the period 2003-13. If so and if the CAGW hypothesis (2) were correct, this should have resulted in a greatly increased rate of increase of global levels of CO2, but instead the rate of increase in atmospheric CO2 levels has remained the same as before 2003 according to Salby. He argues that this data imply that at least 75% and more likely 97% of the increases in atmospheric CO2 is of natural origin, which would not be impacted by the changes in human emissions so strongly advocated by the climate alarmists and USEPA.
The Alarmists Got Their Climate Science Exactly Backwards
So where did the alarmists go wrong? They assumed that global temperatures are determined by global atmospheric CO2 levels even though the evidence suggests that just the opposite is the case. This opposite actually makes physical sense because Earth is largely a water planet and the absorption of CO2 by water depends on temperatures. As temperatures rise, less CO2 is absorbed by the oceans and instead remains in the atmosphere. The rise in global temperatures in the 1930s and in the 1980-90s, probably due to increased solar activity, appears to account for the rise in atmospheric CO2 levels in recent years. Accordingly decreasing human caused CO2 emissions, which is the primary policy recommendation of the alarmists, is useless, but the alarmists have nevertheless persuaded governments and electric ratepayers to spend tens of trillions of dollars to accomplish nothing. Rather, to change global temperatures it would be necessary to change the real determinants of global temperatures, which are not well understood but may include or be related to the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), changes in cosmic ray levels, variations in sunspots, and other natural effects.
One of the most serious consequences of this error is that when the next temperature downturn comes, as it has for millenia, people will have to first overthrow the CAGW hypothesis before they can even consider taking any effective action if such is even possible. This will consume valuable time that may make the consequences even more horrific than they might otherwise be. New research suggests that such a downturn may not be far off. This could indeed be devastating, particularly if sufficient energy resources are not available to meet the needs of freezing humans thanks to the ill-founded actions of governments brainwashed by scientifically incorrect alarmist propaganda which ignores the results of applying the scientific method.