Danaher: What if CO2 is not the problem?
By Charlie Danaher
Posted: 01/10/2010 01:00:00 AM MST
I n a recently disclosed e-mail, NCAR scientist Kevin Trenberth writes: "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."
But what if rising CO2 is not the real cause of global warming? Indeed, throughout history, increasing levels of CO2 have been associated with increasing temperatures. But associations don`t by themselves assign cause and effect. Scientists, and non-scientists alike, try to assign cause and effect upon seeing an association. It`s just natural that we try to understand our surroundings, and trying to figure out why something happened is how we go about it. Sometimes it`s easy to assign cause. Like when your car tire is flat and has a nail in it, you can confidently conclude that the air came out because of the nail. But sometimes it`s more complicated than that. And sometimes when the situation is more complicated we mistakenly call the effect the cause. .
Historically, increases in temperature have preceded rises in CO2. That is, rising Earth temperatures caused a rise in CO2 levels. In thinking that CO2 causes the Earth to warm, we have had the cause and effect switched. As the Earth warms, the ocean will release stored CO2 due to decreased solubility. If one doesn`t understand the cause and effect mechanism regarding the CO2 and temperature, they could be mistaken about what is causing what. If one believes Al Gore when he says that all temperature rises in the past have been caused by the associated CO2 rise, one would naturally worry about recent CO2 increases. But that`s not how it works.
If one incorrectly concludes that temperature rise is a result of rising CO2, they will naturally be confused when temperatures decline, even as CO2 continues to rise, hence Trenberth`s statement. And that`s what we have seen lately. We know that temperatures have fallen worldwide, with 2008 being the coldest in a decade. Further, this decline in temperature was not predicted by climate models. Meanwhile, according to CU`s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), the sun`s irradiance has fallen into a very quiet phase, beginning in early 2007. Maybe the behavior of the sun -- the Earth`s only heat source of any consequence -- is the main driver of global temperature.
Certainly recent human activity has yielded increasing CO2 levels. And it is commonly understood that large CO2 increases result in some amount of warming (although this is not universally accepted). But the question is what percentage of the warming has been caused by CO2 rise and how much is caused by other things. Many scientists believe that the portion of warming due to CO2 rise is insignificant, and therefore why worry about it. CO2 is so small a contributor that even if we removed all human caused CO2 the Earth may continue to heat (or cool), essentially the same as if we did nothing.
If historically CO2 did not cause global warming, and currently it is an insignificant player, then why are we so obsessed with stopping it? Why are we about to pass regulations that would cripple the economy, when it may not help one bit? You would think, with what we have riding on this question, there would be more open discussion about other possible explanations. It should be noted that if CO2 is not the main cause of global warming, then the argument for radically changing our lives in an attempt to reduce CO2 falls apart.
I am afraid that we are heading down a road that has incorrectly accused and convicted CO2 when there is only circumstantial evidence. I think of the Mark Twain quote that Al Gore used in An Inconvenient Truth, "What gets us into trouble is not what we don`t know, it`s what we know for sure that just ain`t so." So many know that CO2 is the cause, but it just ain`t so.
Crippling our economy, restricting personal freedom, attacking private property usage, ignoring real pollutants, creating corrupt political bureaucracies for carbon offsets and trades, putting billions of dollars into research and technologies that won`t improve our lives, all in error. That is what I would call a travesty.