With the unraveling of the temperature aspect of global warming, what about the other half of the equation?
What about the rise in CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
The AGW theory rests on two pillars; the rise in CO2 levels in the atmosphere correlated with the rise in temperatures over the previous several decades. As even Ken Trenberth of CRU pointed out in one of the hacked emails:
The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong.
Since 1998, temps have flatlined while CO2 levels in the atmosphere have continued to rise. No amount of massaging the models can make that singular fact go away.
But let’s leave temperature problems behind and concentrate on CO2 levels. Are these measurements a fraud too? Are dozens of independent measuring centers in collusion to show a dramatic rise in CO2 levels in the troposphere?
This is the problem that deniers have when they say the entire AGW theory has been “debunked.” There isn’t a “consensus” that CO2 levels are rising. It is a measurable fact, independently confirmed around the world.
The problem for AGW advocates has always been to answer the question, what does it mean for climate? Most atmospheric physicists will not hazard a guess in that direction. Temps don’t concern them. They are interested in the chemical and molecular makeup of the atmosphere.
And right now, CO2 levels are about double what they were before industrial civilization.
(How scientists measure CO2 levels is one of those jaw dropping little tricks that impress to no end laymen like me. They measure gasses that have been trapped in air bubbles on the Antarctic ice sheet. They can date the samples using a fairly simple formula and are reasonably certain of their accuracy.)
Is this rise in CO2 a cause for concern? About 500 million years ago, CO2 was 20 times higher in the atmosphere. The average temp was much hotter (no polar ice caps) and oxygen content was also much higher. Life flourished in these hotter temps and the extra oxygen allowed for gigantic growth of the dinosaurs.
What’s different today is that the oceans are acting like a carbon sink, absorbing up to 70% of man made emissions. While the IPCC has said it is uncertain what effect this will have on the biosphere, there are already some indications that lower life forms - algae, plankton, coral - are slowing in growth.
If you understand that about 70% of the world’s humans depend on the oceans for their lives, you begin to see the outlines of disaster. Plankton and algae are absolutely vital to the food chain in the oceans and if they start disappearing, so do a lot of other life forms. The coral are also a huge part of life in the ocean and their colonies are slowing in growth dramatically in some parts of the ocean where there are reliable measurements.
It is too soon to blame this on rising levels of CO2 exclusively but the correlation is troubling. There is also the chance that warming oceans would change the almost magical currents that recycle ocean water around the world, bringing warm water from the south Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico to the northern latitudes in Europe and America which makes the climate much milder than it otherwise would be.
(Ocean temps are another question and that data too, has suffered from inaccurate and suspect measurements.)
But the doubling of CO2 levels in the atmosphere cannot be ignored, nor can the rise of the gas in the oceans. That’s why it makes sense to make a concerted effort to reduce our emissions even if the temperature isn’t rising. There may or may not be a direct relationship between rising temps and rising CO2 levels. But dramatically rising atmospheric and ocean levels of the gas require us to take steps that are prudent, and that won’t destroy our economies in the process.
First and foremost we must wean ourselves from oil and coal as our primary source of energy. Whether we are at peak oil is not an issue. Demand is rising incredibly fast and supplies will be very tight. This is not a temporary problem. Globalization has allowed many third world economies to begin growing at astronomical rates while China and India’s energy requirements are also off the charts. Supply simply can’t keep up with demand even if we drilled every drop from our own coasts and wring every molecule out of what we have on land while demanding OPEC companies dramatically increase their output.
The way out of our bind is not through solar power, or wind power, or nuclear power, but a combination of all three with a little geothermal thrown in for good measure. If we started now with a crash course, we could build 100 nuclear power plants in the next 20 years. Sure, we’d have to bite the bullet and find the political will to store the waste. But perhaps somewhere in the next 20 years, Breeder reactors would be perfected where the fuel could be recycled. All it needs is political leadership and the will to make it work.
Solar and wind power are much more problematic. Industrial scale solar is not feasible at the present time. Neither will wind power be anything more than a local solution for decades to come. But the process of changing that must start now. Weaning ourselves from foreign oil should have been a top national security concern for the last 30 years and we could cut our reliance in half by 2030 if we started now.
The president’s alternative energy plans are, for the most part, sound. The goals are unrealistic (10% energy produced by alternative energy by 2020 where we produce less than 3% today), but there’s plenty of money for research and development. More than $80 billion over the next 5 years will be spent developing everything from new solar cells to batteries that will power the next generation of electric cars.
Even without global warming, these ideas are sound investments in our future. No cap and trade. No silly carbon gimmicks. No UN takeover of our economies. And no destruction of the oil and coal industries. In fact, we should step up our exploration and drilling while finding ways to burn fossil fuels more cleanly. That last is necessary so that we don’t choke on our own industrial waste, while making our cities healthier places to live.
We don’t need global warming catastrophism to see that it is simple common sense to find ways to lower our emissions of greenhouse gases like CO2. Draconian targets are not necessary nor would they likely be achievable anyway.
Perhaps it’s time to separate the concept of CO2 emissions from rising temperatures. If we could address CO2 as an independent issue, we might see the efficacy of lowering emissions for its own sake rather than have the issue get mixed up in the messy politics of global warming.