A Socratic Guide To The Burning Question Of Our Time
There's an old Jewish joke that goes something like this:
No matter what Shlomo did in bed, his wife could never achieve an orgasm.
Since by Jewish law a wife is entitled to sexual pleasure, they decide to consult their Rabbi.
The Rabbi listens to their story, strokes his beard, and makes the following suggestion: "Hire a strapping young man. While the two of you are making love, have the young man wave a towel over you. That will get God's attention and he will provide an orgasm."
They go home and follow the Rabbi's advice. They hire a handsome young man and he waves a towel over them as they make love. It does not help and the wife is still unsatisfied. Perplexed, they go back to the Rabbi.
"Okay,' he says to the husband, "Try it reversed. Have the young man make love to your wife and you wave the towel over them."
Once again, they follow the Rabbi's advice. They go home and hire the same strapping young man.
The young man gets into bed with the wife and the husband waves the towel. The young man gets to work with great enthusiasm and soon she has an enormous, room-shaking, ear-splitting, screaming orgasm.
The husband smiles, looks at the young man and says to him triumphantly, "See that, you schmuck? THAT'S how you wave a towel!"
Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world.
In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.
Michael Crichton, author of "Jurassic Park", "Andromeda Strain", "Westworld", and numerous other works of fiction and non-fiction. Crichton also held a medical degree from Harvard.
A Brief History of the Theory of Global Warming (aka Climate Change)
It all began back in the 1700s when some rock stars - no, not that kind of rock star, geologists actually - were traipsing around Europe and noticed that some of the boulders in the valleys matched the rocks on distant peaks. The only plausible explanation for how those boulders traveled so far was that they must have been carried by ice. This idea was fleshed-out a few decades later by a scientist studying skeletons and frozen remains of large mammals in Siberia. Thus was born the idea of The Great Ice Age. But that opened up a whole new can-o-worms; if ice once covered the Earth, what melted the ice?
In 1824, around the same time these ideas were percolating, a scientist named Joseph Fourier figured out that Earth would be much colder without its atmosphere. Air was trapping heat from the sun and keeping us warm, he said. Fourier had discovered the greenhouse effect.
Building on Fourier's work, other scientists found that about 70% of the greenhouse effect was due to water vapor, 20% was due to carbon dioxide (CO2), and the final 10% was due to methane, ozone, and other gasses. A theory developed that maybe changes in the atmosphere had ended The Great Ice Age.
Water vapor was dismissed as a cause because excess water condenses and falls-out as precipitation. CO2, methane, and ozone do not cycle as quickly, so the theory of melting ice focused primarily on CO2, which while only .04% of the atmosphere, accounts for 20% of the warming effect.
Two things were going on at the same time as all this. One was the industrial revolution and the burning of coal in newly invented steam engines. The other was the observation that the existing glaciers were continuing to melt! Could they be related and tied back to changes in CO2?
Along came a Swedish scientist named Svante Arrhenius, who in 1898 calculated the hypothetical climate change that would result if atmospheric CO2 was cut in half. He calculated that the Earth would be glaciated...as it was during The Great Ice Age! He also calculated that if CO2 doubled, we'd have melting ice and ...global warming! So, the "modern" CO2 theory of global warming dates back to the calculations Arrhenius did 120 years ago in an attempt to explain the onset and demise of The Great Ice Age.
Meanwhile, we've been burning progressively more carbon fuels like coal, oil, and gas in the last 120 years. Finally, in 1960, an American scientist named David Keeling began measuring CO2 levels at an observatory in Hawaii. What he discovered was that CO2 was trending up at an alarming rate!
So with Keeling showing CO2 skyrocketing, Arrhenius' saying we are going to fry if CO2 rises, and glaciers continuing to melt, that eventually leads to Al Gore, Kyoto, Paris, The UN IPCC, and a scientific "consensus" saying global warming is an "existential threat". (Meaning, the end is nigh!)
In 2009, the U.S. government under Barack Obama officially declared that CO2 emissions endangered life on Earth. Whole generations now believe we are doomed. Some have even stopped having children thinking there is no future.
All from a gas that humans exhale, that plants inhale, that makes up only .04% of our atmosphere, and that formed the basis of a theory developed in the 1800s to try and explain the The Great Ice Age!
So, what really ended The Great Ice Age?
B. Mr. Milankovitch
Since this whole CO2 inquiry began as an attempt to explain The Great Ice Age, one of the first questions to ask is, was the premise right? Have we learned anything new since Fourier, Arrhenius, Keeling, et al? Do we now know what caused and ended The Great Ice Age?
You are probably certain it was CO2. After all, you've been told for years that CO2 drives climate. Since the 1800s and Arrhenius we've believed that changes in CO2 can have dramatic effects. We still believe CO2 is melting glaciers today. It's "settled science" after all.
Except, that's not what happened. It turns out, Mr. Milankovitch did it. (Yup, our climate has been hacked by the Russians! Actually, he was Serbian, just sounds Russian.) Milutin Milankovitch was a scientist who figured out in the 1920s that the Earth has a cyclical relationship to the sun. It tilts. It wobbles. It's orbit changes. Some cycles take 100,000 years to complete. Some take 41,000 years. Some take 23,000 years. The effect of all this is rather dramatic... ta da... climate change!
Of course, Milankovitch was instantly dismissed as a kook. Even today as I'm typing this, his name is unrecognized by the spell-check gremlins in my computer. Fourier, Arrhenius, and Keeling, however, are spell-check VIPs.
Until 1998, Milankovitch got no respect. But then a funny thing happened down in Antarctica. Scientists drilled an ice core at a place called Vostok (more Russians!) that gave them a 420,000 year climate history, and voila, there were major ice ages and warmings every 100,000 years. There were also shorter cycles in between. Milankovitch could no longer be dismissed, except of course by spell-check.
Then in 2000 another Antarctic ice core was obtained at Dome C that goes back 800,000 years. Again it confirmed Milankovitch. The Great Ice Age now had a plausible explanation. The Earth's relationship to the sun caused major climate change - global coolings and global warmings - going back as far as we can see.
Dome C Temperature Estimates
If major climate change happens at least every 100,000 years, as Milankovitch theorized, and the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, then there have been 45,000 of those alone. The Great Ice Age was just the latest in a countless series of coolings and warmings!
Another name that should get mentioned at this point is Eddy, as in John A. Eddy. Eddy was one of the most recent astronomers to study the cyclical output of the sun. He published a groundbreaking study in 1976 and named the most recent solar minimums and maximums. While Milankovitch cycles play out over tens of thousands of years, solar cycles can be as short as 11 years. They are also closely correlated with...ta da...climate change!
Here are some of the solar minimums and maximums from recent Earth history that resulted in major global warmings and mini-ice ages:
You can see why glaciers are melting today by looking at the right side of the solar activity graph. We are also near a peak in the Milankovitch cycle. Something would be horribly wrong if glaciers were NOT melting today!
So between Milankovitch's orbital cycles and Eddy's solar cycles, these are the bases for ice ages and their demise. These are the bases for perpetual climate change. In addition, one-time events like volcanoes and asteroids can also produce dramatic and sudden climate swings.
So, CO2 did not cause either The Great Ice Age or any of the many tens of thousands of cyclical coolings and warmings that preceded it. It's the fluctuating sun and our wonky orbit that cause climate change.
(A newer ice core at Allan Hills, Antarctica claims to go back over 1.2 million years, and it also confirms Milankovitch.)
Still, within the Milankovitch and Eddy cycles, we know that:
A. CO2 drives climate change
B. Climate drives CO2 change
Just because Arrhenius et al were wrong about The Great Ice Age doesn't mean they are also wrong about what will happen if we add massive amounts of CO2 to our atmosphere. According to the CO2 theory of global warming, as CO2 increases, so will temperatures.
That's why you are probably certain that CO2 still drives climate change. A consensus of scientists, academics, politicians, and celebrities have been telling you for years that higher CO2 concentrations will cause the Earth to get hotter. As we burn more and more fossil fuels, that releases more CO2 into the air. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, ergo the Earth gets hotter. It's simple.
Except, that's not what happens. Along with temperature records going back 800,000 years, we also got CO2 records for the same time span.
Here's the CO2 and temperature record from the Dome C ice core:
Dome C Temperature and CO2 for 800,000 Years (Red = CO2, Blue = Temps)
At first glance temperature and CO2 appear to be closely correlated. One might even conclude that Arrhenius was right and that CO2 caused the ice ages.
But when zooming in on this graph, something interesting is revealed; CO2 trails temperature by 1200 years, + or - 700 years!
Climate Change (blue) precedes CO2 Change by 1200, + or - 700 Years
CO2 and the other atmospheric gasses behave somewhat like water vapor, except over a longer timeframe. We know that hotter air can retain water vapor in greater concentrations than colder air. There is also a water cycle that is constantly moving water from vapor, to precipitation, to ground, to sea, and then back to vapor. CO2 has a similar cycle, just not as quick.
A number of datasets from ice and sediment cores confirm this finding. The hotter it gets on Earth, the more CO2 can be found in the atmosphere. Contrary to what you've been told, CO2 does not drive climate. Climate drives CO2! The alleged cause is actually an effect.
Still, pumping CO2 into the atmosphere is a new thing, and that's what makes this an existential threat!
As everyone since Keeling knows, CO2 levels are in-fact rising. And who can forget Al Gore on the scissor lift in his movie showing CO2 going literally off the chart? And as everyone knows since Arrhenius, more CO2 makes Earth hotter, right?
Except, that's not what's happening. Yes, we are in a warm period due to both Milankovitch and Eddy, and accordingly, CO2 is rising. That's to be expected. But the question remains: is this time different because we are burning fossil fuels? Can CO2 work both ways? Can it both be driven by temperature and also drive temperatures up?
If greenhouse gasses both increase as temperatures go up, and then cause even more warming, why is the greenhouse effect not a runaway reaction? According to Arrhenius and modern global warming theory, the greenhouse effect should create a feedback loop. Why isn't that visible in the ice core data?
The answer has to do with the light spectrum and each gasses' role in trapping radiation in the troposphere.
At the affected upgoing wavelengths, which are the ones involved in global warming, CO2 is already absorbing 100% of the radiation it is capable of absorbing. Adding more CO2 into the atmosphere can not trap more than 100% of the affected radiation! This is why the greenhouse effect is not a runaway reaction or a feedback loop. It's a self-limiting reaction.
In the 1800s, when Arrhenius was doing his calculations, the instruments for measuring the light spectrum this accurately did not exist. (Then again, neither did antibiotics, airplanes, Model T Fords, transistors...)
Additionally, as CO2 increases, the CO2 cycle speeds up. Here's an example of how the biosphere absorbs CO2 at faster rates:
So, adding more CO2 into the atmosphere will not effect climate, and any CO2 increases will just grow the biosphere.
Still, there is a scientific consensus that says CO2 is uniquely warming our planet, and no one can prove otherwise.
Anyone who's taken a middle school science class knows the value of a control group. Luckily, scientists have the ability to track temperature and CO2 on some of the other bodies around Earth. Venus, Mars, and the Moon are particularly close to us and have yielded some interesting data. If global warming theory is right, temperatures on those bodies should be un-correlated to Earth temps because they are free from the effects of industrialization!
Except, that's not what's happening. In an odd coincidence both Mars
and the Moon
are warming! (Of course, it's still man's fault
!) Milankovitch is particularly relevant to the Moon, because as goes the Earth, so goes the Moon. Eddy is particularly relevant to Mars, because as goes the Sun, so goes Mars.
But there's more.
In our solar system, only Venus, Earth, and Mars have atmospheres with CO2. Of the three, Venus is closest to the sun, has a dense atmosphere, is very hot, and has about 200,000 times the CO2 concentration of Earth. Mars is furthest from the sun, has a very light atmosphere, is quite cold, and still has about 14 times the CO2 concentration of Earth! It appears that distance from the sun is what primarily drives climate on these three planets, not CO2.
Still, we know that global warming is true because all the predictions have been right!
Real science can accurately predict the future. If a cannon ball with a known mass, is fired from a cannon with a known amount of force, at a known trajectory, etc., science can predict exactly where it will land. That's how science works.
If global warming science is real and quantifiable, scientists would be able to similarly predict the future of climate.
Except that's not what has happened. In fact, every single dire prediction has been proven wrong. 100% wrong. Here's a brief summary of what the experts have predicted:
- Global famine by the year 2000 - Dr. Paul Ehrlich, Nobel Prize recipient, Professor
- Entire nations wiped out by 1999 - Noel Brown, U.N. Environmental Director
- Ice caps will melt away and oceans will rise causing massive flooding by 2014 - Al Gore, VPOTUS, global warming evangelist
- End of snow in England by 2015 - Dr. David Viner, climate scientist at The University of East Anglia
- Increased tornadoes and hurricanes - James Hanson, professor of climate at Columbia University & the high priest of global warming, and The U.N. IPCC
- New Ice Age in Europe - Dr. Paul Ehrlich
- Sub-Saharan Africa drying up - U.N. and World Bank
- Massive flooding in China and India - Asian Development Bank and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
- Polar Bear extinction - National Geographic, The New York Times, Guardian, among many.
- Drastic Temperature Increases - James Hanson
- The Earth will be in a “True Planetary Emergency” by 2016 unless greenhouse gasses are reduced - Al Gore
None of those predictions came true. Not one. And that is just a tiny sampling.
Still, we are under an existential threat because the Earth is progressively getting:
You are probably certain that the Earth is getting hotter. The name global warming itself describes the danger. You are probably familiar with the apocryphal "hockey stick" graph featured in "An Inconvenient Truth":
Except, that's not what's happening in the long run:
The Earth is actually getting cooler!
Five million years is not much when you consider the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. That would take 900 - five million year graphs! So, here's another graph estimating 65 million years of global climate change, still only a fraction of Earth's life. Again, it clearly shows Earth is cooling.
The existential threat is that we will eventually freeze, not bake!
Still, in the 200,000 year history of mankind:
A. It has never been this hot
B. It's been much hotter before
No doubt you are sure it's never been this hot. It says so on the "hockey stick" graph. And just consider the melting glaciers!
Yet, we know that 1100 years ago, when the Vikings first went to Iceland, there were no glaciers there. Today, glaciers cover much of Iceland. Similarly, Vikings settled on Greenland around the same time and successfully farmed there for 500 years. But they abandoned Greenland in the mid 15th century, presumably because it got too cold. Those two events are known as the Medieval Warm Period and The Little Ice Age. Curiously, you won't find either of those events on Al Gore's graph.
Here's a graph that shows 10,000 years of climate change from ice cores on Greenland:
And here's a map of glacial retreat in Glacier Bay, Alaska going back 2 1/2 centuries. As you can see, glaciers have been in retreat since long before your SUV!
We have enough data to know that this warm period is nothing new. It's been hotter than this many times before, even in man's brief 200,000 year history.
You are still free to believe in the CO2 theory of global warming. Heck, you are free to believe in anything you want, including Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy! But any serious person who looks into global warming must reflect long and hard before blindly waving a towel for the consensus.
I was the founder of Kindzone.com, one of the first companies to test market retail carbon credits. I've been closely following the science and consensus of global warming for over 20 years.