by D. W. Hayward
In the Anthropomorphic global warming and/or climate change arena, I am reminded of the quote, “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. This quote (from either Rahm Emanuel or Winston Churchill, take your pick), seems to explain some of the more hysterical pronouncements of impending doom. We are all going to die!
Not that Anthropomorphic climate change doesn’t exist, because it does, and not because it doesn’t pose a threat to (some) life on the planet, because it does. I am concerned that we are talking about a symptom and ignoring the disease.
The crisis nature of the issue, which is being promulgated by media and activists (who used to be called zealots) is odd, since although the Earth has had a climate of one sort or the other for 4 billion years, evidently we feel perfectly comfortable with gauging its future behavior based on 50 years of modern data (all of which is suspect). For those with a statistical bent, we are making a projection based on 0.00000125 % of the possible data, and that data may or may not be reliable That is perhaps the definition of the word insignificant.
But let’s skip the curious data and all the hyperbole and dire projections and consider the motivation of the crisis-peddlers.
The core belief is that mankind is changing the climate by emitting greenhouse gases (hydrocarbons) at a prodigious rate, and that this will result in a dramatic alteration to Earth’s climate, and soon; there will be more severe weather, warmer weather in some places, colder in others, changes to patterns of weather, currents, and wind patterns.
This seems plausible, and thus began a noble effort to save mankind from itself. This motivation is mostly righteous and well-meaning.
The planet has been changing its climate all by itself for billions of years, with an assortment of titanic volcanic eruptions, asteroid and comet collisions, and tectonic activities. Once living things arrived, they joined the party by producing millions of tons of poisonous waste gas – oxygen. The cyanobacteria/archaea that first populated the Earth ran amok for millions of years, until the atmosphere had changed dramatically from one of mostly carbon dioxide and nitrogen to one of mostly nitrogen and oxygen. As life conquered the planet, what little carbon dioxide was left continued to decline, and oxygen to increase. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have fluctuated dramatically over the geological timescale, from a high during the Precambrian period, to the lowest CO2 concentrations during the Carboniferous (when the production of coal was taking all the CO2 out of the atmosphere). The last two million years or so have seen the lowest atmospheric carbon dioxide levels since the Carboniferous, 300 million years ago.
Famous Chart #1
Referring to Famous Chart #1, above, there does not seem to be any correlation between temperature change and CO2 level across the ecological timescale. So there’s that.
Except that climate change enthusiasts point to the very end of the Famous Chart #1, the tiny latest fragment, and somehow want us to see a very significant correlation between carbon dioxide and temperature. Deeply wanting something to be true does not change the immense mountain of data lurking behind you.
Plotted against temperature, it is evident that, for much of the planet’s existence, CO2 levels have been much higher than we measure today. The Earth’s average temperature has been up to 10°C. warmer for most of its geological timescale; the current average temperature is cooler than it has been since the Carboniferous, and for as long a period of time – about 2 million years.
Now consider atmospheric Oxygen. Without oxygen we die. The majority of life on Earth dies. So we should probably be profoundly concerned about any decline in oxygen levels in the atmosphere, certainly more concerned than we are about fluctuating levels of carbon dioxide. Except we’re not. Think about that. There appears to be a consensus that global warming is a real threat among 70% or 98% of scientists, depending on which statistics you employ. Yet those same scientists cannot come to a consensus about oxygen levels in the atmosphere:
“There was no consensus on whether the oxygen cycle before humankind began burning fossil fuels was in or out of balance and, if so, whether it was increasing or decreasing,” said study lead author Daniel Stolper, a geochemist at Princeton University in New Jersey.
I don’t know about you, but I am confused – how can we be so certain of the rising levels of carbon dioxide, when, using the same tools and the same data modeling, we can’t even tell if oxygen is increasing or decreasing? Really? When oxygen is 21% of the air and CO2 is 0.036%? Perhaps we can’t see the forest for the trees. The above study concluded that oxygen levels in the atmosphere are declining. Should we be worried? I guess not, or there would be a consensus of scientists running about telling us that the sky is, indeed, falling.
The challenge associated with understanding human effect on the atmosphere is one of scale. The average human expels about 2.3 pounds of carbon dioxide each day. If you exercise vigorously, you produce about 8 times as much. That’s not very much. Carbon dioxide makes up only 0.036% of the atmosphere. Not very much. If we did nothing else but sit in a corner, human respiration would generate about 2.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. That seems like a lot, until you realize that CO2 in the atmosphere already weighs in at 5 quadrillion tons. The percentage of our collective annual breathing amounts to 0.00000005% of the CO2 already present in the atmosphere.
Some of the numbers are all over the place, but the, um, consensus is that human activity (which I assume includes respiration) releases 24 million tons of CO2 per year. If we assume that the number is reasonably accurate, human breathing accounts for more than 10% of that. Well, that’s a big number.
Let us remember that plant life is constantly consuming carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, and that the oceans of the World also sequester CO2, as do many minerals. These carbon sinks trap at least 50% of the CO2 that human activity produces.
It is well established that as CO2 in the atmosphere increases, the rate of photosynthesis increases. The carbon cycle of the planet turns over 750 million tons of CO2 each year, of which human activity “adds” 3.2%. A big number, for sure, except that scientists now are saying that the plant sinks are under-estimated, and the land sinks are under estimated, and that the ocean sinks are underestimated, and the CO2 in the atmosphere is over-estimated. Oh, and the amount of carbon dioxide remaining in the atmosphere is overestimated by 16%. (That’s 800 trillion tons). 1.4 billion tons is estimated to have been released by humans since the Industrial Revolution. (This from a source that “thinks” that human emissions are underestimated).
“For every eight gigatons of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide goes up by approximately one part per million.”
The ppm level of atmospheric CO2 is estimated to be about 409 today, 18/31/08. In 1958 that number was 316 ppm, and the pre-industrial number was estimated to be 280. So a theoretical 46% increase.
The findings of the above study are that at the current time the planet can absorb the “extra” CO2 produced by humans, particularly since plant life will increase their photosynthesis in the presence of increasing carbon dioxide.
Part of Famous Chart #1
Referring again to Famous Chart #1, look at just the Quaternary period; CO2 levels have fluctuated significantly while the temperature has remained the same for 1,640,000 years. Ten thousand years ago the CO2 level was nearly identical to its level today – likewise 2500 years ago. Look at the temperature plot during the Quaternary. Climate-wise, we are coming out of an ice age. Since we already know that there is no correlation between temperature and carbon dioxide, perhaps the small “recent” temperature increase is to be expected as we transition from a period of unusually cold weather.
Overlay on Part of Famous Chart #1
The penultimate driving force, and 900 lb. gorilla in the room, is human beings. More specifically, it is the number of humans on Earth. If we plot human population as an overlay onto Part of Famous Chart #1, we can finally see what looks like good correlation between three parameters: CO2, Temperature, and Human population. Human population growth has been exponential, starting about 10,000 years ago. It’s a bit challenging to see, even on this deliberately small segment of the geological timescale (Homo Sapiens have been here for 0.00025% of the time there has been life on Earth).
It is this population data that is missing from many discussions of Global Warming. It is clear that if the population were reduced, by say 80%, that there would be a corresponding decrease in CO2 emission. It is also evident to just about everyone that such a reduction in population would result with less air and water pollution, less famine, less crime, less strife, and yes, fewer wars.
So why aren’t we running around with our hair on fire, extolling the absolute necessity for a large reduction in population? Well, it’s pretty obvious that no one would want to volunteer to reduce their own individual population.
China made it mandatory that couples could have no more than one child. It was marginally successful, but it took an oppressive totalitarian government to enforce. The one-child policy has been weakened over the years; peasants whose first child was a female, for instance, were allowed to have another child (I can only assume that the Chinese government understands that you haven’t really had children until you have a boy.) In 2013, China further relaxed the law, allowing couples to have more than one child if either parent is an only child.
The concept of population control (we are not talking about reduction here) raises the specter of forced abortions and sterilization, of Procreation Police and “voluntary” euthanasia.
I suspect that the great popularity of dystopian end-of-the-world novels and movies is in large part due to the appealing idea of an environment with a drastically reduced population – Where the Hero walks the deserted streets of New York City or Paris; he has the whole world to himself. It’s a wonderful World.
In the 1950s and 1960s overpopulation was in the news, there were almost constant reports of impending doom – famine from not having enough food, running out of coal and oil, and running out of a place to live on the planet. I remember reading an article that suggest people would need to start living on and under the oceans, as a response to overcrowding. Well, that didn’t happen.
It was during this time period that John Calhoun used rats and mice to study the effects of population density on behavior:
“At the peak population, most mice spent every living second in the company of hundreds of other mice. They gathered in the main squares, waiting to be fed and occasionally attacking each other. Few females carried pregnancies to term, and the ones that did seemed to simply forget about their babies. They’d move half their litter away from danger and forget the rest. Sometimes they’d drop and abandon a baby while they were carrying it.
The few secluded spaces housed a population Calhoun called, “the beautiful ones.” Generally guarded by one male, the females—and few males—inside the space didn’t breed or fight or do anything but eat and groom and sleep. When the population started declining the beautiful ones were spared from violence and death, but had completely lost touch with social behaviors, including having sex or caring for their young.“
This was widely dispersed as evidence of what would occur in an overpopulated World. In a freshman psychology course I remember watching a film of rats attacking and eating each other, of constant fighting, and of anti-social behaviors.
As our human population increases, I tend to see some of the same aberrant behaviors in people that Calhoun saw in mice. Population collapse was rather rapid with mice; I think it approaches much more slowly in humans. We already see negative population growth in some countries – Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Hungary, Japan, Italy, and Greece.
But the total population keeps growing; in 2017, projections of population growth put the World population at between 11 and 20 billion by the year 2100. Imagine New York City with a population of 23 million people, or Shanghai with a population of 61 million.
There is a point at which the Earth can no longer support Homo Sapiens. We just don’t know what the number is; we expect it to be always another decade away. We seem inured to the continuous expansion of population, and oblivious to the fact that there is a number that is untenable. But the number exists, and we are clearly headed straight for it. Our current direction is not sustainable, so why do we do nothing? Is it fear of a potential eugenic bureaucracy? Of being controlled and bred like cattle; only the most promising are allowed to reproduce, only the most productive are allowed to live? I suspect a bit of all of the above. Eugenics was a logical and straightforward system until Nazi Germany got hold of it. Ever since World War II, eugenics became that which shall not be named.
The violation of human rights will inevitably be invoked at any attempt to control population growth. With 100 billion people trying to live on the same planet, humans will spend their days hunting for food and water and killing any others they view as a threat. Tens of millions could die of starvation and disease. Human rights will be very low on the list of priorities. Perhaps it would be inimitably better, perhaps even more humane, to pass legislation now which bypasses the human rights issue and enacts laws to curb growth and provide a future in which our planet is unburdened and in which Homo Sapiens can live in quiet enjoyment.