Can Humans Control Global Climate?
Alvin Lowi, Jr.
by Alvin Lowi, Jr.
is always changing. It has always been so, and it is bound to continue
changing long after man has come and gone. As the global climate
changes, so does the distribution of temperature and atmospheric
gas composition around and about the Earth. And the converse is
also true. For whatever reasons yet to be learned by scientific
study, changes in the Earthís temperature and atmospheric composition
will lead to global climate changes regardless of what the Sun is
first, the chicken or the egg? The scientific study of the relevant
phenomena is a very recent endeavor in human history, which is a
few thousand years out of billions in geological terms. Knowledge
is skimpy and the few findings extant are subject to considerable
uncertainty. There is this old complaint: "Everybody talks
about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." This
is not quite true. Cloud-seeding
technology was developed relatively recently and is being practiced
in specific situations to produce local precipitation. The Chinese
government has disclosed plans
to employ cloud seeding on a grand scale in an attempt to improve
the air over Beijing during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.
puny measures, humans seem to have little or nothing to do with
the Earthís climate except to study it. In any case, understanding
the human contribution to global climate change, if any, would seem
to be a prerequisite for pontification on the matter. If sufficient
authority to pronounce the causes of global climate is not yet at
hand, there is certainly no illegitimate authority for regimenting
human behavior presumed to cause it. It is now widely believed that
the climate of the earth is warming and that such warming is a threat
to life on the planet. It is also believed that this global-warming
is caused by a so-called greenhouse effect exacerbated by the presence
of an excess of CO2 in the atmosphere put there by promiscuous human
activity. Alarm over the dreaded greenhouse effect is spreading
rapidly throughout the population via the mass media. A political
stampede toward the enforcement of draconian CO2 abatement measures
in society is in the making. The
sky is falling. Look out below!
threat to the planet, if any, is only hypothetical at this time,
few of the anthropogenic global-warming believers realize that the
forceful abatement of human CO2 emissions will inflict world-wide
human sacrifice. If they did, they might be more skeptical of
the hype and less patronizing of the promoters. As it is, ignorance
of the economic consequences of political action against CO2 emissions
is incomparably more threatening to humans than the CO2 they emit
into the atmosphere.
of the booming political campaign for government control of carbon
compounds, understanding the consequences of atmospheric CO2 and
the human involvement in it is a matter of some urgency for the
public welfare. While the climate effects, if any, are imperceptible
at present, precautionary or preemptive political reaction already
in evidence is producing adverse economic consequences, such as
misuse of resources and misapplication of capital. Consider the
diversion of agricultural enterprise from foodstuff to motor-fuel
production at the behest of public relations and taxpayersí subsidies.
Government-sponsored production of boutique alternative motor fuel
(ethanol) has already resulted in doubling the price of milk and
corn tortillas. Hamburgers and hot dogs are next.
To put human
culpability for the weather into perspective requires first taking
an inventory of all CO2 emissions and consumptions, natural and
man-made. This is a task that is not only difficult but controversial.
Next is required a full explanation of the greenhouse effect, its
relative importance in global climate and the relative importance
of the various gaseous constituents of the atmosphere in the phenomenon.
Then, the question as to where the greenhouse effect ranks in significance
among all the other phenomena that possibly influence global climate
must be answered. Finally, the relative importance of geological,
meteorological, solar and cosmic effects in global climate formation
must be ascertained. Note that none of the latter has an anthropogenic
component. In a
previous article, I briefly examined the physics of global climate
formation and casually surveyed the various phenomena known to be
at play in its outcome. Thereby, I hoped to identify any significant
anthropogenic influence in the matter and to advance (at least my
own) understanding of what has become a major controversy in human
affairs. This publication exercise was good for me, but response
to the article indicated that not all readers were similarly gratified.
I opened my previous essay with this outrageous statement: "In
1991, the volcanic eruption at Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines
put more carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere than did the
whole human race during the most recent century of the industrial
era." This statement provoked queries from several thoughtful
readers asking for sources, which proves LewRockwell.com readers
are paying attention. Thus prompted, I proceeded to examine the
Pinatubo event more carefully. I found an
authoritative report on the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo event, which estimated
this eruption put 921 megatons of H2O vapor and 234 megatons of
CO2 gas into the atmosphere.
If so, Pinatubo emitted in a matter of days about 1% of the
CO2 emitted by the whole human race in the year 2003.
Pinatubo eruption source states the following:
University of Rochester physicists who conducted the study "determined
the volcano climate sensitivity and response time for the Mount
Pinatubo eruption, using observational measurements of the temperature
anomalies of the lower troposphere, measurements of the long
wave outgoing radiation, and the aerosol optical density," perhaps
inspired by what Hansen et al. (1992) had said of this eruption,
i.e., that it had the potential to exceed "the accumulated
forcing due to all anthropogenic greenhouse gases added to
the atmosphere since the industrial revolution began," and
should "provide an acid test for global climate models." Thus,
when the water emitted is taken into account, the total contribution
to the Earthís greenhouse cover by this one volcanic event justifies
my previous claim. Nevertheless, temporary Earth cooling was the
outcome of Pinatubo 1991. Whatever human activity contributed
to the Earthís greenhouse that year, it was eclipsed by Pinatuboís
other effects for a good while thereafter. Another
treatment of volcanic CO2 emissions found that 30 billion
metric tons of CO2 was being emitted every year from Mount Etna
alone as of the late 1980's. This research also estimates the
current emissions from all volcanic sources (including geothermal)
at 264 billion metric tons CO2 per year. These emissions were
found to be in equilibrium with the ground. Specifically, the
CO2 emitted into the atmospheric is being absorbed in the soil
and oceans at a comparable rate by silicate weathering and alkali
buffering. Apparently, volcanic activity may well be emitting
an order of magnitude more CO2 than human activity per annum without
any exceptional eruptions like Pinatubo.
mostly geothermal types. Some
geysers are actually carbon dioxidedriven, cold water
geysers. Many are submarine and uncharted, but could account for
certain vertical convection currents in the oceans that alter the
local CO2 distribution.
rarely found in media coverage, which concentrates lately on human
culpability and original sin, there exists a considerable cache
of actual data on the CO2 in volcanic eruptions. A geologist responding
to my previous article expressed surprise that volcanists don't
publish more on this subject under the circumstances. He also
thinks the climatologists should be more concerned than they apparently
are with the effects of volcanic activity on the atmospheric inventory
of CO2 because of the potential for the volatilization of huge volumes
of CO2 from mineral carbonate in the crust of the Earth.
have reason to neglect CO2 emissions. In spite of what the alarmists
say, the greenhouse effect of CO2 is not that important in global
climate formation. 100 ppm (0.01%) more CO2 in the atmosphere over
a hundred years may be a lot of aerial fertilizer, but it is probably
negligible as a weather-maker. Too bad it probably won't produce
some warming, which would be welcomed by most humans, plants and
animals. Apparently, volcanic activity has a significant influence
on the Earthís climate. It is also apparent that humans donít. Volcanic
exhausts have enormous potential as a source of atmospheric CO2.
The volumes may actually be greater than I represented in my earlier
article. The reason for this is that volcanoes volatilize tremendous
amounts of mineral carbon and carbonates residing in the Earth's
crust. The potential atmospheric CO2 is far greater from volcanic
sources than from forest and brush fires, which in turn is greater
than from human fuel burning.
It is estimated
that 2 billion tons of CO2 are emitted annually from drained and
burning peat lands in Indonesia. About 80% of this is from peat
land fires and 20% is from the decay of drained and drying peat
swamps. This amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere, about a tenth
of what human industrial and agricultural activities produce, raises
the question as to how much of the Earthís total is coming from
forest and brush fires, and how much of that is caused by arson
versus nature (lightning)?
As of a couple
of years ago, anthropogenic
CO2 emissions were estimated at 26 billion metric tons per
year. If so, human CO2 emissions are about 10% of volcanic CO2 emissions.
And then there are previously mentioned forest and brush fires to
account for. Accordingly, human emissions of CO2 at present are
somewhat less than 10% of the total.
In any event,
all these carbon emissions are balanced by the natural, on-going
CO2 uptake and sequestration in vegetation, soil weathering and
dissolution in rain, lakes, rivers and oceans. An increase in the
concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere increases the rate of these
absorptions. As a result, ambient CO2 dissolution is a significant
buffer on the increase of atmospheric CO2 from increases in CO2
emissions from whatever source. Thus, most CO2 emissions never enter
the greenhouse to affect the climate.
It has come
to pass that CO2 emissions are popularly believed to be cooking
the life out of the planet via the greenhouse effect. It is widely
believed that humans are responsible for this global climate change
because they put the culprit CO2 to the atmosphere. Since few people
know anything about CO2 (most donít even know what it is or how
it creates a greenhouse effect), how were they convinced CO2 in
the atmosphere can play such a significant role in global climate
formation via a greenhouse effect? Did they ever consider the possibility
the more ubiquitous water vapor in the atmosphere (humidity) might
be a more important greenhouse gas than CO2?
forecast the future climate on Earth by mathematical modeling and
computer simulation are doomed unless they account for the water
in the atmosphere. They may be doomed even if they do because of
the uncertainty in the data and kinetics. Water is not only an independent
factor but it almost always accompanies CO2 emissions (e.g. hydrocarbon
combustion, respiration, etc.). Water is more prevalent and far
more significant than CO2 in radiation interchange with the sun.
Water not only absorbs solar radiation but also condenses to form
clouds that reflect and scatter the sunshine The cooling effects
of this radiative scattering utterly counteracts the heating by
radiation absorption in the greenhouse effect. But the scattering
is a much more complex phenomenon, an anathema to mathematical modelers.
importance of water in the formation of global climate is the inconvenient
truth ignored by the environmental lobbyists and propagandists.
In their fixation on CO2, they claim to represent the findings of
a preponderance of scientists indeed a consensus Ė on what computer
models say about the Earthís climate. The activists donít know any
better Ė they can claim innocence by virtue of ignorance. However,
the modelers, who have neglected the role of water in the atmosphere,
should know better. But in grazing for funding to support their
research budgets, they pander to those who can influence the public
outlays. Oblivious to such matters, the alarmists blithely represent
the findings of the technical authorities to the political authorities
as unimpeachable, and that their conclusions somehow ratified as
if by plebiscite, support urgent political measures, which they
(the activists) are ready, willing and able to deliver in terms
of a public stampede for protection from nebulous harm.
the computer models? Modelers. The modelers masquerade as the highly
credentialed academics they usually are, sequestered as they usually
are with their super-computers in government laboratories and in
university laboratories funded by the government. Their mission
is to create a mathematical surrogate of real world climate and
advise their clients regarding the formulation of appropriate public
policies as if government can do something about the climate. The
truth is, the government is powerless to do anything about the global
climate and the computer expertise involved is more relevant to
games, animated cartoons and other graphical forms of juvenile amusement.
of modeling the climate of the whole earth for the purpose of making
long-term predictions with sufficient confidence to regiment human
life is highlighted by the fact that the big-budget meteorologists
can't even forecast the weather in Los Angeles a week from now,
let alone the winds aloft over the poles at the end of the century.
Such modeling may be the most complicated problem ever contemplated
by man. Even global
climate data summaries (compilations of simple facts) over-simplify
the modeling problem.
and most discrediting, modelers neglect water in the greenhouse
gas inventory. Also, they count only the readily observable "anthropogenic"
sources of CO2, albeit footnoted to the effect that the natural
sources, while possibly large, are too uncertain and difficult to
ascertain. Yet, the researchers blithely persevere while timidly
admitting that the natural sources are probably well over ten
times the anthropogenic ones.
results have been used to alarm the public over the future of the
planet as a suitable human habitat. Such alarm is out of all proportion
to the scientific credibility of those results. The modelers focus
on human CO2 emissions and greenhouse calculations virtually in
isolation from other climate influences. Such concentration is more
appropriate to a forensic investigation than basic climate research.
Whereas basic scientific research seeks to extend the bounds of
human knowledge of the natural world as it is, forensic science
seeks to find fault for injury to build a cases against the culpable.
(often shortened to forensics) is the application of a broad
spectrum of sciences to answer questions of interest to the legal
system in relation to a crime or to a civil action. It is not a
dispassionate knowledge-finding endeavor.
narrow focus on the simple radiative greenhouse effect facilitates
mathematical modeling, the truth is that blackbody
radiation interchange between the sun and the atmosphere is
dominated by the scattering effects of particles dust, smoke,
water droplets, sulfates and other aerosols. Model that!!
It seems the
modelers have been hired to build a case against affluent human
life as a cause for political action. But who is the client? Who
is the plaintiff? Who is picking up the tab? Taxpayers, who else.
Do they have a cause of action against themselves? No. But there
are no lucrative political careers without taxpayers, who are the
resourceful and productive people that can be fooled and shamed
for their very industry. It doesn't matter if there is actually
a crime that can be measured. So much the better for the politically
ambitious if it can't. And if the affluent canít pay, who can? It
appears the alarm over human industrial emission of CO2 is a political
red herring in a wild goose chase to gain and exercise political
power. It is an old story: create public panic over an imaginary
threat to justify a futile and senseless campaign that amounts to
the conquest of the population. In the case at hand, strap the public
to a carbon abatement campaign and you have permanent conquest.
This campaign to stampede the public is reminiscent of a long line
of other prohibition movements (e.g. booze, drugs, prostitution,
etc.). All are doomed to messy failure.
it is never too late to learn as long as you are alive. For starters,
get your facts straight. Google makes it easy as never before. Hunt
for CO2 sources as a means to help put human life on Earth into
a proper perspective. But get more out of your CO2 emissions while
you are at it, and donít forget about the water.
emissions is an admirable strategy for improving the efficiency
and cost of living. For example, getting better mileage from the
fuel you burn will not only reduce your CO2 emissions but your driving
costs. Improving conventional power plant thermal efficiency reduces
CO2 and consumer electricity cost and conserves natural resources
in the bargain. But none of this is relevant to global climate change.
Although such emissions enhance the so-called greenhouse phenomenon,
they do not represent a threat to human life from changes in the
What is threatening
to human life on the planet is the public panic over a hyped-up
threat from nature supposedly caused by human emissions of CO2 as
a consequence of the good life. Man insults Mother Nature. Mother
Nature strikes back. How does She do this? She empowers some politicians
to shame the sheepish and stampede the guilty for protection. Protection
is the governmentís racket. The racket du jour is mandatory
CO2 emission control, which amounts to rationing industry and the
society it serves.
reductions in CO2 emissions that are not matched by thermal efficiency
gains signify a decline in viability. Taken to the limit would result
in all entropy and no work, a consequence of Clausius' Second Law
of Thermodynamics. Philosophers and apocalyptics fanaticize this
outcome as the red death of the planet. Society is immortal only
to the extent there are improvements in power generation and transportation
propulsion technology. Humans can and do control their CO2 emissions
to this end.
CONTROL GLOBAL CLIMATE? No. Not even by controlling their emissions
of CO2. The best they can do is to inform themselves and to act
in self-defense according to their best judgment of the situation
as they find it, using the most appropriate technological means
Lowi [send him mail] has
been a professional engineer in private practice in Rancho Palos
Verdes, California, for the past 40 years.
© 2007 LewRockwell.com