November 13, 2006
Meaning Of Climate History For Global Warming Debated

Does the history of temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations provide a clear indication of what the effects will be for atmospheric CO2 increases in the 21st century? Not yet.

Some argue that CO2 fluctuations over the Phanerozoic follow climate trends fairly well, supporting a causal relationship between high gas levels and high temperatures. “The geologic record over the past 550 million years indicates a good correlation,” said Robert A. Berner, a Yale geologist and pioneer of paleoclimate analysis. “There are other factors at work here. But in general, global warming is due to CO2. It was in the past and is now.”

Other experts say that is an oversimplification of a complex picture of natural variation. The fluctuations in the gas levels, they say, often fall out of step with the planet’s hot and cold cycles, undermining the claimed supremacy of carbon dioxide.

“It’s too simplistic to say low CO2 was the only cause of the glacial periods” on time scales of millions of years, said Robert Giegengack, a geologist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies past atmospheres. “The record violates that one-to-one correspondence.”

He and other doubters say the planet is clearly warming today, as it has repeatedly done, but insist that no one knows exactly why. Other possible causes, they say, include changes in sea currents, Sun cycles and cosmic rays that bombard the planet.

“More and more data,” Jan Veizer, an expert on Phanerozoic climates at the University of Ottawa, said, “point to the Sun and stars as the dominant driver.”

Paleoclimatology should get larger chunks of research money. We need to find out how much costs we should foist upon ourselves in order to reduce or perhaps even reverse the build up of atmospheric CO2 from fossil fuels burning. I'd hate to slow worldwide economic growth to solve a problem that might turn out to be much smaller than the gloomier forecasts make it out to be. But at the same time, I'd hate to underspend in solving a problem that is going to be far more expensive and disruptive than the optimists expect. Better information leads to better decisions.

We should also put more government research dollars into developing cleaner energy sources. That money will get paid back in the form of cheaper energy, cleaner environment down at ground level where we breathe and eat, and faster economic growth.

One of my disappointments with the pro-Kyoto Accord forces is that they do not push either increased climate history research spending or energy research spending anywhere near as hard as they push restriction of CO2 emissions now. It is like they want to choose the most painful path. But the opponents of the Kyoto Accord aren't, for the most part, trying to accelerate the development of greater knowledge about climate history or pushing for a big scale-up of energy research either. The deniers of the problem want to do nothing. The believers in the problem want to go down a path that is most punishing. How about a more rational middle?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 November 13 07:22 AM  Climate Trends


Comments
Daran said at November 13, 2006 12:16 PM:

Many of the people who do not believe in global warming still favor less dependence on foreign oil. However, the emotional investment in anti-nuclear campaigns of many greens is so great that this is not yet an option.

ScottyB said at November 13, 2006 12:42 PM:

I agree that a rational global warming policy should include climate history research. It makes sense to know what your target emission reductions should be (as best you can) to balance cost and effectiveness.

Daran, I've read a few articles that make it sound like environmental groups are softening their stance against nuclear power. I can't remember if it was the Sierra Club or NRDC where I read it, but they seem to be willing to compromise on nuclear power if it means less coal plants being built. Personally, I feel this is a wise choice.

Rich said at November 13, 2006 2:40 PM:

We should also put more government research dollars into developing cleaner energy sources.

Yeah, why not. Do we really need to eat 3 meals a day?

That money will get paid back in the form of cheaper energy,

Or greater profits for the producers.

cleaner environment down at ground level where we breathe and eat,

Depends on the environmental effects of producing the technology (large scale).

and faster economic growth.

So let's increase taxes to 100% and maximize economic growth!

Has anyone noticed any relationship between economic growth and pollution?

Or is it just me?

rsilvetz said at November 13, 2006 4:40 PM:

It's such a farce. A paleogeologist who barely has multi-thousand-year resolution to his data is telling me CO2 is causal... when the evidence we do have, that IceAge/GlobalWarming is in 1-1 correlation with perturbations of Earth's orbit and nutation of the axis, is ignored universally.

But in the interest of proposing a solution to a non-problem (because global warming is a good thing), how about orbiting solar mirrors to drive ocean phytoplankton to greater photosynthesis via night illumination? Didn't NASA do a big-time study in the 1980's on this and concluded that it was viable? Not only would it drop CO2 emissions but it would drive up food supply for the fish drammatically, and thus solve the problem of dwindling fish stock. Two problems with one stone!

Or whitewash all the roofs...

Or go 100% nuclear to reformulate methane profitably into the hydrogen economy...

Or get the Tri-Alpha fusion reactors of General Atomics commercialized (talk about .gov mishandlement!)(no really, they extract energy from the alpha particles coming out of the fusion reaction, it works, sort of)

Or go micro-solar, just enough solar panel to handle the constant draw current e.g. TV, computer, refrigerator, gadgets and gizmos, 5 100-watt light bulbs. Economically affordable for everyone and would drammatically diminish electric demand on power plants.

But I doubt anything of substance can come about trying to crush emissions except another round of onerous regs.... We'll see...

aa2 said at November 13, 2006 6:58 PM:

I believe the key pushers of the kyoto type process are really marxists. They need things that scare us and make us give control to the governments, especially a world government. And they want to equalize the people of the world materially. And that means dramatically reducing the output of the advanced nations.

If we weren't afraid would we accept a lower standard of living?

Randall Parker said at November 13, 2006 7:09 PM:

Robert Silvetz,

My argument is that the research to develop cleaner energy sources will pay back just by providing cheaper energy. We'll get cleaner air as a bonus side effect. Even if CO2 isn't a problem the decrease in particulates and mercury and other junk will provide real health benefits.

bee said at November 13, 2006 7:23 PM:

Randall, I applaud your courage in posting a piece that questions the CO2 --> Temperature Link. I also agree that we need to research cleaner energy approaches. I guess this brand me as a energy paid denialist. For the record I do not work for the energy industry and am trained in the sciences.

Brian said at November 13, 2006 8:35 PM:

CO2 is a benefit to plant growth and is responsible for 60% of wheat yield, for example, as compared to the 1700's. Think of a H3 Hummer as a fertilizer machine that someone else is paying the bill on, and without it you would be near starving. I say tripple, that's right, tripple the CO2 to 1200 ppm and plants will double their growth. The data is overwhelming that CO2 does NOT cause "global warming" and if the planet is warming (sun, underwater volcanos, superman, or whatever) you're going to want more CO2, NOT less.

Remember the Gores of the world are Maxists out for power, and they never get it right. Follow the money honey, or was that honey money (corruption). There are several ways to cut CO2 by 50-80% if that is your religion (gia god), but the real question is how to get the fuel burn back up again to higher levels than today with this new technology. So, if there are 1 billion people now at USA burn rates, and 5 billion move to USA standard of living with lots of H3s and traffic, we should be on track to having the deserts "blossom like a rose" as it were with current flows. No crisis, not problem, and a barrel of oil will stay at record lows. Why? This new tech has a new twist.

No go out an put some miles on your car, the tree down the street will hug you for it...and stop believing in this hoax called "global warming."

rsilvetz said at November 14, 2006 12:20 AM:

Well, I understand that you want more money to go to research. I'm hardly going to agree to have my resources taken for a non-issue. Actually I decline the whole idea that Peter should be robbed to pay for Paul's research in the first instance.

Nonetheless, just to blast a hole in the so-called consensus, The UK Telegraph has a great series going on the topic... it's reverberating around the world as the link was emailed to me and I'm not even fanatical on the topic....

momochan said at November 14, 2006 1:43 PM:

Acidification of seawater due to increased atmospheric CO2 alone is enough reason to cut back on fossil fuel burning. The chemistry is straightforward, the impacts quite harmful (at least during the 'punctuated' phase of punctuated equilibrium, until acid-resistant foramnifera evolve).
But I'm open to evidence to the contrary, so fire away if you've got it.
I'm all for increased funding of research into alternatives. Too bad the funding isn't there.

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