The Arctic Seems To Be Warming Up
by Brian Maher
by Brian Maher
Previously by Brian Maher: Buckle-Up!
seems to be warming up. Reports all point to a radical change in
climatic conditions, and hitherto unheard-of high temperatures in
that part of the earth’s surface. Expeditions have sailed as far
as 81 degrees 29 minutes north in ice-free water. The eastern Arctic
has steadily gotten warmer, and today the Arctic of that region
is not recognizable as the same region of about 50 years ago. Many
old landmarks have changed as to be unrecognizable. Where formerly
great masses of ice were found, there are now often moraines, accumulations
of earth and stones. At many points where glaciers formerly extended
far into the sea they have entirely disappeared. Formerly the waters
around Spitzbergen held an even summer temperature of about 3 degrees
Celsius; this year recorded temperatures up to 15 degrees, and last
winter the ocean did not freeze over even on the north coast of
The change in temperature has also brought about great change
in the flora and fauna of the arctic.
go again. Hasn’t the bien-pensant crowd at the Post heard
of Climategate or the Himalayan glacier row or the admission by
Phil Jones that there has been no statistical global warming since
1995? But wait, let’s check the date on that article. Hmmm, the
above passage appeared in the Post – on November 2, 1922!
Yes, that’s right, 1922, long before any gas-guzzling SUV
roamed the earth. How can that be? Wasn’t the Arctic gliding along
in a perpetual state of cryogenic bliss until man turned up the
thermostat in the mid to late twentieth-century? Isn’t the late
twentieth century warming unprecedented?
No, not quite.
The Arctic is apparently highly sensitive to changing climatic conditions,
regardless of their origin. Scientists know the region was toastier
from 1920–40 than it is now. They also know it was significantly
warmer in the more distant past. Blaming any of these past warmings
on man would strain the very limits of credulity. These changes
are cyclical, and often pronounced, as the introductory passage
strongly suggests. The point being, the late twentieth century warming
was in no way a singular event worthy of mass hysterics.
has become the mass hypnotic focus of our time, a credendum of right-thinking
people. I admit it, though. I am a climate skeptic. I am not a scientist
and I well realize that many impeccably credentialed scientists
of good will do embrace some variant of the AGW hypothesis. I am
not alleging that a pervasive consuetude fraudium grips the
entire scientific community. There are obviously men of science
who know to crook their knees in the direction of their funding,
but I am not in a position to indict the entire profession.
is extraordinarily recondite and quite beyond my grasp. Unless you
have an advanced degree in physics or chemistry, it’s probably beyond
yours as well. It is with a layman’s ear that I have followed the
global-warming debate. I base my skepticism on some basic premises.
these is the fact that carbon dioxide is but a trace gas representing
a vanishingly small 0.04% part of the atmosphere. The amount of
carbon dioxide man adds to the atmosphere each year is a small fraction
of that, about 3%. Nature cycles nearly twenty times as much into
and out of the oceans each year. We only add one molecule of CO2
to every 100,000 molecules of atmosphere every five years. A doubling
of CO2 would only increase the greenhouse effect by about one percent.
you will the atmosphere as one hundred cases of one-liter bottles,
or 2,400 one-liter bottles. Out of those one hundred cases, ninety-nine
aren’t even greenhouse gases and are therefore irrelevant to our
purposes. Just one case out of one hundred actually represents greenhouse
gases. Out of that one case that represents greenhouse gases, only
one bottle out of twenty-four represents carbon dioxide – the other
twenty-three are mostly water vapor. Out of that one bottle that
represents carbon dioxide, only about fifty ml represents mankind’s
annual contribution, about a shot glass worth. So out of our theoretical
atmosphere of 2,400 liters, we’re responsible for about a shot glass
worth of CO2 emissions. Or if you imagine the atmosphere as a 100-story
building, man’s CO2 concentration amounts to the linoleum on the
Yet this piddling
amount is predicted to send this lugubrious ball on a gadarene rush
towards a runaway global warming that will bring industrial man
to his condign ruination.
Color me skeptical.
I contend that if the climate was that sensitive to moderate increases
in a trace gas essential to life, we probably would not be here
today. The whole darn thing probably would have jumped the rails
long ago. Yet here we are. I simply do not believe we stand so precariously
on the devil’s shovel.
I believe that
the climate system is extraordinarily resilient and perfectly capable
of accommodating modest increases in a trace greenhouse gas. We’re
currently at about 388 ppm. Plants shut down at about 150 ppm. They
thrive at 1,000 or more ppm. This planet has sustained CO2 levels
twenty-five times or greater than we experience today. Historically,
CO2 levels appear to share very little correlation with temperature.
I do not think that CO2 levels of 500 or 600 ppm have ever posed,
or are capable of posing, any credible threat to the environment.
I believe the burden rests on those who disagree to demonstrate
otherwise. To date they have failed to do so.
Again, I am
not a scientist but when I consider the arithmetic I can’t help
but doubt the theory. I believe it far more reasonable to conclude
that the climate system possesses robust natural mechanisms perfectly
capable of putting an effective brake on any putative runaway greenhouse.
It is important
to first note that CO2’s effect on temperature is logarithmic. It
is counterintuitive, but its effect on temperature actually decreases
with increasing amounts. The chart below illustrates the relationship
between CO2 and temperature. If we assume pre-Industrial Revolution
atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to be about 280 parts
per million, then the first 20 ppm produced half of that warming,
while the second half required an additional 260ppm. Most of the
warming potential of carbon dioxide had already been realized when
its level in the atmosphere reached about 280 ppm.
As you can
observe, doubling or even tripling the concentration of carbon dioxide
in the atmosphere will have little effect on future temperature
by itself. SUV drivers, take heart! Your emissions are destroying
the environment at a decreasing rate.
AGW proponents agree that doubling CO2 levels by itself would
only lead to a temperature increase of about one degree or so. This
is not generally disputed. What is hotly disputed – pun intended
– is how earth’s feedback mechanisms have been reacting to the initial
CO2 warming. Therein lay the great controversy at the heart of the
scientific debate, which does assuredly exist despite some rather
self-serving claims to the contrary.
Those in the
alarmist camp believe CO2’s initial warming impetus has been producing
greater water evaporation from the surface, which is accumulating
in the atmosphere since warmer air can hold more water vapor. This
is no small matter since water vapor is about one hundred times
as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide in the altogether.
It is theorized that this increase in water vapor has resulted in
more warming, which has lead to the release of more water vapor,
which will lead to more warming, etc., which will ultimately lead
to all species of environmental calamity. See Al Gore.
This is the
central thrust of the alarmist argument. Virtually all working IPCC
models assume a net positive feedback from CO2, which is why most
produce a strong warming bias. Yet surprisingly there are no real-world
observations to support this assumption. Positive feedbacks
no doubt exist. But the thing is, so must negative feedbacks, and
it is these that the models – or their tendentious programmers –
tend to pooh-pooh.
a one percent change in cloudiness can account for the entire warming
of the twentieth century. A ten percent increase in low-level clouds
could completely negate the warming effects of a doubling of CO2.
Even such seeming minutiae as the width of water droplets in clouds
can evidently influence climate. Smaller droplets that reflect more
solar radiation can reduce warming estimates dramatically. Models
can’t begin to represent this sort of complexity.
suggest that an enhanced greenhouse effect will result in a more
efficient rain cycle with decreased precipitation, ironically. And
lower temperatures. But these conclusions are admittedly theoretical.
What is not theoretical is that the climate is a system of gothic
complexity that we’re only beginning to understand.
the observational record has proven rather unkind to the
alarmist cause. Earth should be experiencing much greater warming
if the climate was as sensitive to CO2 increases as the models suggest.
In point of fact, temperatures have been flat or falling for over
a decade despite steadily rising CO2 levels, which would imply an
overmastering negative feedback. There’s almost no correlation since
1998. A nice point to put somewhere.
Am I cherry-picking
data that supports my case? Perhaps, but no more than the other
side does. To the alarmist, disaster always seems to lie around
the next corner. "Everything’s alright for now, but just wait until
X." Yet "X" never seems to arrive.
I am not a scientist, but I believe that natural forces, especially
solar cycles and oceanic circulation cycles, likely account for
most of the twentieth century’s climatic variation. Alarmists have
attempted to absolve the great fireball in the sky but many scientists
contend that these critics have underestimated the sun’s role by
at least a factor of two. Maybe even ten.
Does this explain
everything? No, probably not. There are myriad factors at
play, many of unknown strength. The role of aerosols is apparently
a great uncertainty, for example. Methane is another, although atmospheric
levels appear to be relatively stable. A weak anthropogenic CO2
signal is probably hidden somewhere in the noise, as well. Few claim
that CO2 plays no role whatsoever.
Razor suggests that the natural combination of solar activity and
changing oceanic circulation patterns have been the primary factors
driving climate over decadal scales at least. This theory should
have been the working hypothesis for any serious inquiry. In a violent
wrench of logic the IPCC alighted upon CO2.
The very name
IPCC is highly instructive. If the objective of that august body
was merely to understand climate it would have been named the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Studies, or some such, not the ideologically freighted
International Panel on Climate Change. Its mandate was clear
from the outset. The culprit was immediately fingered – mankind.
A show trial ensured his guilt. Rousseau surely must have been somewhere
was of course necessary. By happy coincidence, the weaponry required
to slay the multi-headed hydra of climate change were readily available
in the armamentarium of the progressive Left: centralized economic
planning, taxation, wealth redistribution. All on a global scale,
could not be ignored. The vein simply ran too deep. The prospect
of placing a taxable claim on the very respiration of civilization
fires the planner’s imagination as little else can. Heady wine,
that. An esurient international bureaucracy found a natural ally
in Western officialdom, itself determined to mine the deepest resources
of human enterprise. Rent-seeking corporate interests positioned
themselves to profit from climate change legislation, under the
stalking horse of corporate responsibility. They too surveyed vast
fallow fields of opportunity.
This ill designing
troika, the bête noire of free marketeers everywhere,
formed a mighty front that will fight to the last for the cause.
Fortunately, it is now on the run. Some are beginning to cough behind
their hands. It will not go quietly into that good night, however.
Too much money – too much power – is at stake.
Isn’t it odd
that Obama would raise his cries for climate change legislation
to a keen pitch in the immediate wake of Climategate and other embarrassing
revelations that cast the entire AGW theory into serious doubt?
Wouldn’t prudence demand a cautious approach to determine the scientific
validity of these claims before committing the nation to an irreversible
loss of economic sovereignty and a whopper of a tax increase that
may prove completely unnecessary?
One would think.
One would be wrong. As they say, follow the money. That will almost
always provide the answer. Universal health care is an expensive
proposition, official rhetoric notwithstanding. Social Security
is careening towards insolvency. So are Medicare and Medicaid. Woe
to the politician threatening to raise taxes to pay for it all.
Enter cap and trade.
By saving the
planet and weaning us off of our pernicious dependence on foreign
oil, the administration hopes to skim between $1.3 to $1.9 trillion
from the private economy between 2012 and 2019. One suspects the
two are not unrelated. A drop in the bucket, but still.
I close with
an oft-cited but highly apropos gem from the great Mencken. You’re
probably familiar with it but I think it’s just so fitting: “The
whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed
and hence clamorous to be led to safety by menacing it with an endless
series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” Few things alarm more
than environmental catastrophe.
Maher [send him mail] is
a freelance writer living just outside of New York City.
© 2010 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.