Can Humans Control Global Climate?

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Global climate 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 Earth's temperature and atmospheric composition will lead to global climate changes regardless of what the Sun is doing.

Which came 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.

Beyond such puny measures, humans seem to have little or nothing to do with the Earth's 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!

Although the 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.

On account 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 taxpayers' 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.

Another Pinatubo eruption source states the following:

The 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 Earth's 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 Earth's greenhouse that year, it was eclipsed by Pinatubo's 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.

Volcanic activity includes geysers, mostly geothermal types. Some geysers are actually carbon dioxide–driven, 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.

 Although 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.

However, climatologists 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 Earth's climate. It is also apparent that humans don't. 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 Earth's 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 don't 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?

Attempts to 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.

The overwhelming 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 — on what computer models say about the Earth's climate. The activists don't know any better — 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.

Who constructed 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.

 The difficulty 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.

Typically, 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.

The modelers' 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. Forensic science (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.

Whereas a 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 can't 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.

Regardless, 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 don't forget about the water.

Reducing CO2 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 Earth's climate.

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 government's racket. The racket du jour is mandatory CO2 emission control, which amounts to rationing industry and the society it serves.

Arbitrary 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.

CAN HUMANS 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 at hand.

May 22, 2007

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