The Other I

October 15, 2009

Freaky facts?

Filed under: Environmental Issues — theotheri @ 2:39 pm

I’ve just read a review of a recently published book, Super Freakonomics, and for the first time I am beginning to rethink global warming.  Not that it’s not happening, and not that we aren’t involved in the process.  But I’m shocked to discover that there is a reasonable scientific argument for the possibility that the culprit isn’t CO2 emissions.

Which of course means that curbing CO2 emissions might not be the solution either.

Anyway, what are the arguments against what is almost a universal scientific consensus on this question?

First of all, carbon dioxide is not the major greenhouse gas.  Water vapour is, but since we don’t know how to measure water vapour and cloud cover, it’s left out of the models.  But this might be like ignoring the famous elephant in the corner.

Here are some specific relationships which are disconcerting for the CO2 hypothesis:

  • The heavy particulate pollution we generated in earlier decades seems to have cooled the atmosphere by dimming the sun.  That sparked a panic over global cooling in the 1970’s, which I remember.  The warming trend returned when we subsequently started cleaning up the air.
  • Carbon dioxide has increased in the past century from 280 parts per million to 380.  But that’s not as high as it sounds.  60 million years ago when mammals were evolving, the concentration was three times as high as it is now.
  • Another fact that does not fit in conveniently with the current consensus is that global temperatures have actually decreased in recent years.  That really shouldn’t be happening, although I have assumed along with almost everybody else that this fluctuation was merely interfering noise on a graph that was heading inexorably upwards.  But maybe it isn’t.
  • Recent ice-cap evidence show that over the past several hundred thousand years, CO2 levels have risen after, not before, a rise in temperature.
  • Recent research, moreover, shows  carbon dioxide levels do not always mirror human activity and that atmospheric carbon dioxide does not necessarily warm the earth.  A doubling of carbon dioxide emissions traps less than 2% of outgoing heat from earth.
  • Nor is carbon dioxide exactly quite as poisonous as its current reputation suggests.  In fact, we cannot survive without tons of it because it is the food on which plants thrive.  And if plants don’t thrive, we don’t eat.  Hydroponic greenhouses typically keep their CO2 levels at 1400 parts per million.  Increases of CO2 in our atmosphere could actually increase our food production by as much as 70% without increasing use of land mass, water, or additional nutrients.
  • Rising sea levels – which are real – are not being driven primarily by melting glaciers, but by the expansion of the water than is already there.  Because warm water takes up more room than the same amount of cold water.

But if CO2 emissions really aren’t the culprit causing global warming, then cutting CO2 emissions worldwide with the expectation that it will cool things down could have terrible consequences.  Not only might it fail to reduce warming, but the economic toll will be huge.

All right then, if it’s not CO2 emission reductions, what will help keep our planet cool?

The Freakonomic authors do have a startling suggestion.  About which more in a later posting.  Right now I’m ordering the book.

And preparing for my sister’s arrival from the States.  So my postings may be sporadic for the next week or so.  Sitting down over cups of morning coffee and evening glasses of wine come first!


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