Climate Confusions II

One other comment from my post last week on “Maybe the Sun Has Something to Do With It”* comes from Steve Prestek, who wrote:

There’s one question about our climate that I have been seeking an answer on and even the eco-guys can’t seem to help me out. So, the climate of the earth has been hot and cold and everything in between since the creation. Look, the Vikings didn’t name that big island they settled “Whiteland”. They called it “Greenland” for very good reason… it was green. Obviously it was a lot warmer then, the Vikings were farming the place. And also, at one point the Brits were growing wine grapes in Britain. At another point they were ice skating on the Thames. At both of these extremes mankind got along quite well as did plant and animal kind. So that kind of begs the question: Which climate is the best? What makes THIS climate so important that it must be preserved at all costs? What makes the climate we have right now the right one?

An excellent question/challenge that, upon reflection, reveals the hubris and conceit of environmentalists.

For baseline reference, keep the following figures in mind.  Right now, atmospheric carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas) is slightly above 390 parts per million (ppm), up from a pre-industrial level of about 280 ppm.   The CO2 level is rising between 1 and 2 parts per million per year.  The policy target of the UN circus is to halt the CO2 concentration at no more than 450 ppm by the year 2050.

Now let’s leave aside the fact that CO2 levels fluctuate naturally, and the well-known (but ignored) fact from the ice core samples that global temperature change often precedes rises in CO2 levels by a few hundred years, which means we can’t rule out that some or most of the current increase in CO2 levels has a natural cause.  For our purposes here just note the way environmentalists like Gore talk of “holding” CO2 to a specific level, because it is assumed that holding to a specific level will “hold” the climate in a specific range.

Bill McKibben, the tedious enviro-fanatic who is leading the mass arrests outside the White House right now to protest the Keystone pipeline from Canada, heads an organization called, arguing that we have to get the CO2 level back to 350 ppm.  But why 350?  I’ve heard one other prominent climate scientist say the goal of policy should be to get CO2 all the way back down to the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm, because that is the “natural” climate condition.  Of course, that “pre-industrial” level coincided with the end of the “little ice age.” In fact, the end of that era, in the early 1800s, saw the last mass famines in world history from climate-related causes.  Is that really the “right” climate we wish to have?

There is no such thing as the “right” climate level, as Steve Prestek rightly points out.  Selecting the “right” level for CO2 might not be just a thought experiment, as it turns out.  There is beginning to be research into “air capture,” which is a broader version of carbon capture and sequestration; that is, it might be possible to develop technology that will allow us to remove CO2 from the air on a global scale.  (It can be done now in lab experiments, but the energy requirements are prohibitive on a larger scale at the present time.)  If such technology were developed, two things would happen.  First, environmentalists will oppose it, because it would absolve us of the original sin of fossil fuel use—getting rid of fossil fuels is environmentalism’s Prime Directive.  Second, the political arguments over setting the “right” climate level for the planet will be more intractable than the Arab-Israeli conflict.  If you read the fine print of the IPCC reports, you will see that many northern latitudes, such as Russia and Canada, will be big winners from global warming if it occurs.  Think Russia wants to turns down the global thermostat?  This issue has already come up in connection with other “geo-engineering” ideas such spraying high-altitude sulfate particle or sea-spray cloud seeding, both of which appear feasible and cost-effective right now.  People following this closely recognize that the political problems are much larger than the technological problems.

Beyond this particular aspect of the issue, it reveals also the narcissism of today’s environmentalists, who tacitly believe that the current era’s climate is the “right” one, and that modern fossil fuel use is the only possible human effect on climate conditions. Humans probably began affecting the climate 5,000 years ago, when we began the long transition to scale agriculture.  There have been a few studies of how the European climate shifted starting with the land cover changes that accompanied the rise of agriculture.  The climate campaign ignores any consideration of the wider meaning of such research, which reinforces my point that it is the environmentalists who are the real know-nothings of this whole matter.

*Speaking of which, don’t miss Anne Jolis in today’s Wall Street Journal, writing more about the cosmic ray connection I highlighted last week.  Remember–you read it on Power Line first!