Monday, May 12, 2008

Definitive Guide to Global Warming Issues

Global Warming is (Partially) Due to Human Activity

Despite last month being a degree cooler than average for the entire 20th century (according to the official NOAA website) I still believe we ARE in a definite global warming period. One snowflake doesn’t make a winter and one cool April doesn’t make for a cooling trend.

Yes, I do accept the scientific consensus that average global temperatures have risen and the trend will continue for some decades into the future. I also believe that human burning of fossil fuels is partly responsible for this trend.


Carbon Footprints Should be Reduced

We should each do what we can to reduce our carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. My wife and I use an electric golf cart and bicycle for most local travel. For three years our only car has been a hybrid Prius (around 45-50 MPG). Our home thermostat is set to allow inside temperatures to rise to 78 degrees and fall to 64 degrees and our home is well insulated and so on and on.

I favor goverment policies that lead to a larger proportion of carbon-free power. This includes nuclear as well as wind, water, and solar energy.

Despite Joel’s “Corny Schemes” Topic, I believe biofuels are a partial solution to reducing CO2 levels. We need to recognize that corn-ethanol is our first serious foray into biofuels. Brazil has made much progress with sugar cane-based biofuel. Once the technology and US infrastructure are developed, we will transition from corn to switchgrass and agricultural, industrial, household, and sanitary wastes as the raw materials for biofuels.

I have long been in favor of a punitive “carbon tax” on all fossil fuels as a way to finance renewable power technology while encouraging more economical use of oil and coal. Senators McCain and Clinton are pandering to the public with their proposal to reduce federal gasoline taxes this summer. Senator Obama has it right (on this one issue :^) and Senator Kerry had it right many years before he ran for president when he suggested a 50-cent a gallon carbon tax.

This past month, as gasoline approached $4 a gallon, usage dropped a bit for the first time in a decade or more. The numbers of commuters car-pooling and using public transportation is increasing rapidly. Had we taken Senator Kerry’s (and my) advice ten years ago, and imposed a punitive carbon tax, we would now have much better public transportation and more energy-efficient and economical cars and houses and factories, and a much lower carbon footprint.

I wish there was public support for a carbon tax. Sadly, there is not. It is political suicide. However, since I am not running for office, I can give my opinion. I would start the tax immediately at a dollar per gallon and increase it a dollar each year until usage dropped by 25%. I would impose a carbon tax on all other carbon-based energy, including coal-fired electric power, in proportion to the carbon emissions levels. The best way to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel and increase carbon-free energy usage is via the pocketbook, not by government mandate and a “shell game” of trading of carbon credits.

Why We Should Limit Carbon-Based Fuels

There are three principal ways carbon exists on Earth (see figure at the head of this Topic):

a) AIR – As CO2 (carbon dioxide) and other atmospheric gasses including CH4 (methane).
b) SURFACE – In the carbohydrates and other molecules that make up living plants and animals.
c) UNDERGROUND – Sequestered as carbon and hydrocarbons in the form of coal and oil.

For millions of years, the UNDERGROUND carbon has remained pretty much undisturbed. It is a sequestered storehouse of energy absorbed by the Earth from the Sun over eons.

The AIR and SURFACE carbon is regularly exchanged between plants and animals. Plants absorb carbon-based gasses from the air and produce airborne oxygen for animals to breathe and food for animals to eat. The animals, in turn, return carbon-based gasses into the air and, when they defecate or die and decompose, return nutrients to the ground as fertilizer for plants.

The whole process is powered by energy from the Sun. Evaporation of surface water heated by sunlight lifts water vapor into the air and it later falls as rain and makes our rivers flow. Sunlight is also required for plant photosynthesis.

In recent times, particularly the past couple hundred years and especially in our lifetimes, this nice balance of Nature has been disturbed by the large-scale burning of UNDERGROUND carbon. The scale of this de-sequestration of carbon is without precedent.

The advantage of biofuels is that, while the sugar cane or corn or switchgrass is growing, those plants draw carbon out of the atmosphere, absorbing the present energy of the Sun to create fuel. While it is true that biofuels return the carbon they have absorbed back to the atmosphere when they are burned, they do not increase the total amount of free carbon. Burning of coal and oil, in contrast, adds old, formerly sequestered carbon to the atmosphere.

Do Al Gore’s Claims Have Scientific Merit?

One of the most dramatic moments in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth movie is when he mounts a motorized platform and is lifted high on the stage to demonstrate how much he expects CO2 to increase in coming years. The sharp rise in CO2 (the upper red curve on his graph) resembles a “hockey stick” in shape. The implication he leaves in the minds of the audience is that the temperature (the lower blue curve on his graph) will experience a similar “hockey stick” increase in coming decades.

What is the scientific reasoning behind this implication? Well, according to the ice core data that provides a measure of the CO2 and temperature levels over the past 600,000 years or so, temperature and CO2 are related. When one goes up, the other tends to do the same. When one goes down, the other goes down as well. You can see the relationship in the portion shown in the above photo, going from 150,000 years ago to the present.

Gore’s argument is that increasing CO2 is associated with increasing surface temperatures. It is true that, as temperatures increase, the CO2 dissolved in the oceans tends to outgas (like warm soda that loses its fizz) and the additional CO2 in the atmosphere acts as a “greenhouse gas.” More CO2 in the atmosphere traps more of the infrared radiation from the Earth and that leads to further heating of the surface which leads to more CO2 coming out of the oceans, and so on and on. Surface heating melts the ice cap and causes the oceans to rise, flooding large areas on Earth now used for agriculture and human habitation.

Any additional CO2 due to human burning of fossil fuels will add to the process, and, Gore concludes, lead to a “tipping point” within the coming decades. Once we go over that tipping point, large portions of the Earth will become uninhabitable and that will be a disaster for all mankind.

I agree with much of the above argument, but I do NOT believe there is any scientific evidence – certainly NOT from the ice core record – that human activity is the principal cause of the global warming observed so far, nor that we are headed for any tipping point.

What Humans are Responsible for and What We Can Do

Even if humans were the principal cause of global warming, no matter what we do (short of killing half the world population in a nuclear war or genetic engineering disaster) there is no way we will reduce CO2 worldwide in the coming decades. With China, India, Russia, and other countries rapidly increasing their standards of living as they adopt something like capitalism, they will inevitably burn more fossil fuels and emit more CO2. All we can do is slow the rate of increase in atmospheric CO2.

Despite Al Gore’s movie, there is no scientific evidence that we are approaching anything like a “tipping point” anytime soon. Despite his emotional claims that rising CO2 levels will cause global temperatures to shoot up at what he calls a “hockey stick” curve, the very ice core data he used to make his point demonstrates the very opposite.

I’ve taken the same ice core data Gore used and expanded the portion from about 150,000 years to the present.

Look at the last strong warming period that hit its peak about 130,000 years ago. Notice that it was the temperature (orange curve) that started to rise and the CO2 (blue curve) followed about 600 to 1000 years later. If you look at the other periods of rising temperature, you will also see that the temperature rises before the CO2 in every case. Thus, the ice core data provides absolutely no evidence that rising CO2 causes temperatures to rise. It is clear the causality is in the exact opposite direction. Rising temperatures, due to some other cause, namely the distribution of Solar energy on the Earth, is what causes CO2 to rise.

In fact, look at the period after the peak warming at about 130,000 years ago and you will see a rapid drop in temperature over a 10,000 year period while the CO2 remains high! If high levels of CO2 are the primary cause of global warming, how on Earth could the temperatures drop consistently for 10,000 years while CO2 remained high?

The most recent warming period started about 25,000 years ago and, for about 15,000 years continued to climb. CO2, as expected, followed suit. However, about 10,000 years ago, temperatures stabilized, while CO2 continued to rise rapidly!

Humans did not burn a significant amount of fossil fuel until the industrial revolution, a few hundred years ago. Therefore the CO2 rise must have been due to some other factors.

Thus, the ice core data displayed by Gore and other global warming alarmists gives no scientific support to the idea that human activities are a principal cause of the current warming trend. All the historic ice core data shows the opposite, namely:

1) Temperature rises BEFORE CO2 rises. Therefore the causality is in the opposite direction (temperature change causes CO2 change), or both are caused by something else.

2) Temperature fell rapidly while CO2 remained high for 10,000 years, so high CO2 does not cause temperature to rise. You could make the opposite claim that high CO2 caused the temperature to fall!

3) Fast rising CO2 does not cause temperature to rise in proportion, if at all. In fact, all the periods of rapid temperature drop on the above graph are during times of steady or increasing CO2 levels!

It’s the SUN, Stupid!

Energy radiation from the Sun varies on several cycles, the best known of which is called the "Sun spot cycle" and happens every eleven years. There are longer cycles of variability that extend to centuries and millennia.

According to U Montana there are three major cyclic components that affect the Earth's orbit around the Sun: (1) Eccentricity of ~100,000 years, (2) Axial Tilt of ~41,000 years, and (3) Precession (or "wobble") of ~23,000 years.

These components do not affect the total amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth, but rather energy distribution between the polar and equatorial areas and seasonality. That, in turn, affects the build up and melting of polar ice. Based on the ice core data, the combination of these cycles triggers cooling and warming periods.

Therefore, when the orbital and solar radiation cycles happen to coincide, which may occur around every 100,000 years, a global warming cycle is initiated. The warming causes more CO2 to be driven out of the oceans and, over an 800 year period, CO2 levels rise and stay high until the solar radiation high point passes. At that point, cooling begins and, a thousand years or more later, CO2 levels decrease as more of the CO2 gas is again absorbed into the cooler oceans.


We are definitely in a global warming period.

Human activity, namely burning coal and oil that have been sequestered underground for eons is definitely responsible for a portion of this global warming.

Therefore, to the extent practical, we humans should reduce our dependence on carbon-based fuels. However, no matter what we do, human-caused CO2 emissions will continue to rise in the coming decades. We may be able to slow the rise, but there is no practical way to stop it that will be acceptable to the forces at work in human civilization.

The global warming period we are in is mainly due to natural, uncontrollable variation in our Earth’s orbit around the Sun: orbital eccentricity, axial tilt, and wobble.

BOTTOM LINE: Get used to it! We are going to have to use technology to cope with steadily rising temperatures and sea levels for the coming decades. It will be bad, but nothing near what the alarmists are predicting. There may be an average increase of a degree and a foot or so over the coming fifty years. Many low-lying agricultural lands and cities will be flooded. Some sea walls and levees will prove to be inadequate and will be washed away or have to be torn down. Human habitation and permanent buildings will be banned on most land below high water level. Building codes will restrict new construction in low-lying areas to protect life and property. Life will go on!

Ira Glickstein

Click HERE for my novel predictions about life on Earth fifty years from now.


eredux said...

Check out this US Carbon Footprint Map, an interactive United States Carbon Footprint Map, illustrating Greenest States. This site has all sorts of stats on individual State energy consumptions, demographics and State energy offices.

Deardra MacDonald said...


Thank you Ira for restating a scientific understanding of what causes the Glacial-Interglacial Periods. I remember a lecture in one of my classes at Temple University that covered mainly the Life Line of the Earth. What really fascinated me and caught my attention was The Four Geologic Time Line of Glaciations.

I have recently seen a documentary on the science channel that depicted clearly the four time line intervals. It stated that glacial are not randomly distributed in time. Many glacial advances and retreats have occurred during the last billion years of Earth history. Let’s think about that for a minute… If "ice age" is used to refer to long, generally cool, intervals during which glaciers advance and retreat, then our “modern climate” represents a very short, warm period between glacial advances. Hmmm

Yes, I agree with you that science has provided us with sound scientific proof of plate tectonics, continental uplift, reduction of CO2, and changes in the earth's orbit, eccentricity of the earth's orbit, the sun, the tilt of the earth's axis, and the precession of the equinoxes. All these shifting and cycling factors influence the cooling and warming of the earth's crust. That is exactly why I am reading your excellent internet novel, “2052-The Hawking Plan”. Its focus is to spread human life and civilization far and wide into space as insurance against further disasters here on Earth.

Where I respectfully disagree with your article is when you said, “ It’s the SUN, stupid.” I disagree with the word, stupid; you used to undermine Al Gore and his large following of very intelligent and concerned people. He is only speaking of a different point of view to global warning. Al Gore has brought attention to the ways that additional CO2 due to human burning of fossil fuels effect global warming. Yes, I understand that fuel is only partly responsible for the current global warming period. However, the other positive and needed scientific statements in Al Gores claim are desperately needed today. I see Al Gore statements as a wake up call (!) Let’s say Al Gore is just the front-runner to the natural, uncontrollable variation in our Earth’s orbit around the sun with its orbital eccentricity, axial tilt, and wobble.

With respect as always, Deardra

Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks "eredux" - it is interesting to see which states have the highest per capita carbon footprints.

Thanks also to Deardra for positive comments as well as her "respectful" disagreement with my "It's the Sun stupid" comment. Of course, that was an update of the Clinton/Gore "Its the Economy, stupid" slogan that helped them win the White House in 1992.

While it is true Al Gore has alerted us to the real issues of excessive carbon dioxide in the air, he has also overstated and misstated the case that it is mostly due to human activity as well as what we can do about it.

As I showed in my analysis of the ice core data - exactly the same data used in Gore's movie - there is absolutely no ice core proof that high CO2 levels have caused warming periods in the past. In fact, past warming periods have all started when CO2 levels were low and past cooling periods have all started when CO2 levels were high! Quite the opposite of what Gore implies in his movie.

However, as I also pointed out, human burning of previously sequestered carbon (coal and oil) is totally unprecedented. CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Therefore, human activity is a contributor to the current warming period, but not the principal one.

Gore preaches from his mansion that burns dozens of houses worth of carbon, junkets around the world in his private plane spewing carbon gasses, and created a carbon credit trading scheme he is cashing in on. He studiously ignores the major cause of the warming cycle, solar forcing due to variations in Earth's orbit which we have no control over. He is panicing the US into uneconomical "solutions" that cannot make much of a dent in the real source of warming.

As I stated in my main Topic, I believe we are in a warming cycle partially due to human activity and my wife and I are doing more than most to help reduce our carbon footprints (certainly an order of magnitude more than Al Gore). I favor a punitive carbon tax that will hit everyone in the pocketbook and force further reductions in carbon emissions while encouraging carbon-free energy. Still, since "it's the Sun, stupid" that is forcing the warming, we need to get used to it and adopt better building codes for low-lying areas and take other practical means to ameliorate the situation.

Ira Glickstein

Deardra MacDonald said...

Hi Ira,

Thank you Ira for your comment explaining the update of the Clinton/Gore “It’s the Economy, “stupid” slogan that helped them win the white House in 1992. I misunderstood the meaning and why you used “It’s the Sun stupid.” As soon as I read your comment, I laughed out loud at your good sense of humor “It’s the Sun stupid.” As I had mentioned to you before, your humor is such a compliment to your writing style when dealing with serious issues.

I reread your article and concentrated only on the ice core data. Yes, I understand your chart and it shows past warming periods have all started when CO2 levels were low and past cooling periods have all started when CO2 levels were high! As you noted (according to the official NOAA website) we ARE in a definite global warming period. uh-oh! You have definitely peaked my interest in CO2 level and how one should view them. I will start Goggling on “ice core data.”

I also agree with Stephen Hawking, physicist and cosmologist, 2001 “ I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I’m an optimist. We will reach out to the stars." Also, I will be looking so forward to your sequel on 2052-Hawking Plan…yes, saving human life and civilivation, is Jim O'Brian's highest ethical purpose.

With respect as always, Deardra

Howard Pattee said...

Have you seen this?
It suggests that the sun is cooling.

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard, yes I am aware of the 11-year sun spot cycle and the fact that the strength of the sun spots varies between cycles and that we are at a low in the strength of solar radiation, as related in your linked "Ray of hope" item.

However, the idea that "it's the Sun, stupid" is NOT primarily based on the sun-spot cycle. At 11-years, it is way too short on the 100,000-year scale of global warming and cooling periods. As I said in my Topic posting:

According to U Montana there are three major cyclic components that affect the Earth's orbit around the Sun: (1) Eccentricity of ~100,000 years, (2) Axial Tilt of ~41,000 years, and (3) Precession (or "wobble") of ~23,000 years. These components do not affect the total amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth, but rather energy distribution between the polar and equatorial areas and seasonality. That, in turn, affects the build up and melting of polar ice. Based on the ice core data, the combination of these cycles triggers cooling and warming periods. Therefore, when the orbital and solar radiation cycles happen to coincide, which may occur around every 100,000 years, a global warming cycle is initiated.

The weakness of the current sun spot activity might be the reason last month was a degree cooler than the average April in the entire 20th century and, I guess, it could partially counteract the effects of human burning of previously sequestered carbon (coal and oil) at rates unprecendented in the history of natural, solar forced (actually Earth orbit forced) climate change.

If you look closely at the graph in my Topic posting you'll see that major global warming cycles extend to +2 degrees C above and -8 degrees C below current temperatures over 100,000 year periods. Everything discussed in the item you linked to has to do with variations that occur at a much smaller scale of both time (hundreds of years) and temperature change (1 or 2 degrees C).

Never-the-less, if sun spots happen to be in a low ebb that might extend for 50 or 100 years or more, that could counteract the greenhouse gas warming of our unprecedented burning of coal and oil. If the sun spot ebb continues, it could give us enough relief to cancel out some or all of the effects of human-made CO2 until we learn how to live with renewable energy. That could be good news!

Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard, I was looking back at my May 2008 Global Warming Topic and your Comment there caught my eye.

Your Comment alerted me to a ray of hope newspaper report that the Sun was cooling. At the time, I did not give much credence to the idea that the amount of solar radiation was varying significantly and I thought the warming we were experiencing was due to the increased distribution of the radiation to the North and South poles due to Earth orbital variation (plus the greenhouse gases due to human activity).

Well, I was wrong! The story you linked to has turned out to be right! The amount of solar radiation does affect surface temperatures significantly according to the historical record, TWICE! "The Little Ice Age" or "Maunder Minimum" (1645-1715) and the shorter "Dalton Minimum" (1790-1820) were extended periods of little or no sunspots that coincided with global cooling. Periods of high sunspot counts coincide with global warming. The strong warming period from 1940 to a few years ago coincides with some of the highest sunspot counts in the past 200 years.

At the time the story you linked to was published, the start of the new sunspot cycle was a bit over a year later than expected.


As I stated this month in Where Have All the Sunspots Gone I AM NOW A BELIEVER.

It "IS the SUN, STUPID".

But, don't get me wrong, I still think human burning of sequestered carbon is a significant contributor to global warming (just not the major cause). We still need to conserve and be more efficient and use greener energy sources and pass a punitive revenue-neutral Carbon Tax. However, the reduced activity in the Sun (thank GOD?) has given us some breathing room. We do not need to take drastic actions that could further disrupt the economy and unnecessarily grow the government.

Ira Glickstein