Guest Opinion: Dr. Tim Ball
From the start, Richard Lindzen, former professor of meteorology at MIT, said about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) anthropogenic global warming (AGW) hypothesis: The consensus was reached before the research had even begun. The IPCC virtually ignored evidence that showed the hypothesis wrong, including failed predictions. Instead of revisiting their science, they moved the goal posts from global warming to climate change and recently climate disruption. Mainstream media have aided and abetted them with misleading and often completely scientifically incorrect stories. These are usually a reflection of their political bias.
A recent example appeared from the BBC, triggered by more evidence that contradicts the hypothesis, that human produced CO2 is almost the sole cause of global warming. The egregious example is the BBC report on the first images from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2). See also Anthony Watts’ report from the AGU.
Preliminary evidence essentially exonerates humans as the source of CO2. That is a narrative unacceptable to the IPCC and all their media supporters. As a result the BBC, whose lack of journalistic integrity and political bias, was exposed in the emails leaked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU), are obliged to spin the evidence. One comment in the article says,
It is possible to see spikes, too, on the eastern seaboard of the US and over China. These probably include the additional emissions of CO2 that come from industrialisation.
This misinformation is contradicted by the lower than average levels over the UK and Europe. Another comment on Figure 1 says,
Also apparent are the higher concentrations over South America and southern Africa. These are likely the result of biomass burning in these regions.
This misinformation is a contradiction because the area of southern Africa is mostly grasslands and desert. How does that generate “biomass burning”? Figure 2 shows a map of the climate zones of Africa, ironically, it appears in an article pleading for financial help to deal with climate change.
The claim that South American levels are due to forest burning is ridiculous. At any given time, only a small area of the forest is being burned. It was higher in the past because countries like Brazil were encouraged to provide tax incentives to farmers to clear land, with help from the World Bank. The idea was that a country must have a solid agricultural base for a viable economy. The practice was stopped when the environmental finger of rainforest destruction was pointed.
In 2006 a report exposed another misconception about sources and concentrations of atmospheric gases, especially so-called greenhouse gases. Frank Keppler of the Max Planck Institute determined that the rainforests were a very large source of methane. Keppler,
“…was surprised when he saw signs of methane being emitted by plants he was examining in normal air. “If we were following the textbook, we would have ignored it as a mistake,” he says.”
This is not surprising, given the structure and process of a tropical rainforest. They are an illusion because the soils that sustain them are among the most unfertile in the world. People wonder why agriculture doesn’t flourish, it is because of the poor soils. Many projects have failed with this illusion.
People are familiar with deciduous and evergreen trees. The former have leaves that grow and are discarded with the seasons. Evergreens have needles that remain attached year round but are ready to begin photosynthesizing quickly, thus maximizing the short growing season. Trees in the tropical rainforest are what I call deciduous evergreens. They always have leaves but are constantly shedding and replacing them. This means the leaf litter is constantly supplied to the surface but very rapidly rots, and the tree quickly takes up the nutrients. Laterite soils underlie the rain forest.
Laterite soils are reddish subsoils found in tropical regions that are formed by the rock layer breaking down and leaching through the soil. They are rich in minerals such as iron oxides and aluminum, and most don’t support plant life or vegetation well because they dry hard and compact, and lack organic matter. Laterite deposits can be a few inches or hundreds of feet thick and are normally horizontal. When very wet, laterite soils can be cut into bricks for building.
The important soil formation factors are high temperatures and constant rainfall that literally washes out most minerals essential for plant growth. The various shades of red depend on the percentage of iron.
When the vegetation is removed the soils bake iron hard. They are also very difficult to plow because of quartz particles that wear out a steel plow very quickly. Several schemes failed over the years because they ignored the physical realities of tropical soils. The first major one was Fordlandia, an attempt during the Second World War to grow rubber in the Amazon rainforest. Rubber, a crucial wartime resource, was no longer available from Malaya. They transferred the rubber plants back to South America but farmed it without care to the soil conditions. Look at the inappropriate formal row cultivation in Figure 3.
After World War II, the drive for increased agricultural production, centered on production of vegetable oil. In Britain they created the Groundnut Scheme in East Africa. Groundnut is the English term for peanut. It was also a disaster, as a 1981 article titled, “The East African Groundnut Scheme: Lessons of a Large-Scale Agricultural Failure” explains.
Another scheme built on lateritic soils without care to their limits, was the 1967 brainchild of shipping billionaire known as the Jari Project. He built a massive processing plant (Figure 4) in Japan and had it towed to Brazil to process a fast growing tree (Gmelina) for pulp and paper. The project staggered along for some years but ultimately failed.
I am aware that there were other factors involved in the failure, but the common denominator and primary factor was the limitations of the tropical soil.
The few people that survive in the tropical rainforest know the limitations of the soils. They developed slash and burn agriculture in which a small are is cleared and the vegetation burned to provide briefly a higher level of nutrients sufficient to grow crops for one or two years. The area is then abandoned back the rainforest.
Methane (CH4) was targeted before CO2 in the environmentalists rush to blame humans for every change detected. Much of the focus was the role of cattle that received attention from Jeremy Rifkin’s fantastical book and campaign titled “Beyond Beef”. He effectively blames cattle for all the failures of civilization.
The problem was that methane was a minute fraction of the atmosphere and greenhouse gases. Methane is 0.00017% of all atmospheric gases and only 0.36% of the total greenhouse gases. Like CO2 they have inflated the warming potential by claiming it is 20 times more effective than CO2. Despite this, it can’t be very important because in an article about methane “leaking” from the sea floor, Andrew Weaver, Lead Author and contributor on computer modelling for four of the IPCC Reports said,
“[Methane] was not considered in any of the predictions at all.”
That didn’t stop the journalist from fear mongering.
“But one thing is certain: The fact it hasn’t been factored into previous global warming predictions means forecasts even as recent as the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are too conservative.”
A disturbing remark, but not as intended. If it isn’t factored in, then it indicates all previous estimates of greenhouse effects are wrong and the effect of other variables including CO2 are overestimated.
Other sources were blamed before cows, each tied to some human cause. A 1982 Science paper argued that termite numbers were increasing commensurate with clearing of forest and bush. Disclosure of a calculation error in the numbers pushed the termites aside. Increasing beaver populations briefly became the target. Expanding wetlands resulted from reduced trapping and the consequent population explosion. Thawing permafrost is raised occasionally as a source of increased methane, but a study by Georg Delisle rejects the alarmism.
He studied time periods from the last 10,000 years when the global temperature was warmer than today for several thousand years by as much as 6°C. Ice cores that had been extracted from Antarctica and Greenland provide exact information about the composition of the atmosphere during the these warm periods. His conclusion: ‘The ice cores from both Greenland and Antarctica provide no indication of any elevated release of greenhouse gases at any time even though back then a deep thawing of the permafrost when compared to today would have been the case.’ This was clear to see on the poster he used for his presentation. Obviously CO2 and methane are much more stable in the ground also when it thaws (sic).
Reports of methane bubbling up in the Arctic Ocean triggered a new spate of articles. Most stories are alarmist.
“Far more of the greenhouse gas methane is seeping from seabed deposits in the Arctic shelf into the atmosphere than previously thought.”
Some reports take a reasoned view. A New Scientist article says,
“The trouble is, nobody knows if the Arctic emissions are new, or indeed anything to do with global warming.”
The reality is they don’t know how much there is.
“Estimates of how much is out there are vague. There could be anywhere between 500 to 10,000 gigatonnes of carbon in the hydrates and another 7.5 to 400 gigatonnes in the permafrost.”
Another problem that likely influenced decisions to ignore methane was the IPCC chart depicting global levels over time (Figure 5).
This underscores their failed projections shown in Figure 6 from Assessment report 5 (AR5).
It’s not surprising because all greenhouse gas numbers are very crude estimates for each source. The only table, to my knowledge, that pulls together the various “source” estimates, was produced by Dr. Dietrich Koelle for 2010 data.
The error range of two natural sources, Ocean outgassing (tropical areas) and Ground bacteria, rotting and decay, exceed the total human contribution. The latter supposedly includes what goes on at the surface under the tropical rainforest. It is a vast natural composting process producing nutrients to sustain the vegetation.
The satellite data is only a surprise to the IPCC supporters, because it completely contradicts their assumptions and narrative. Once again, as it has from the start, the evidence contradicts the consensus assigned to the IPCC hypothesis. Instead of acting in a scientifically appropriate manner and re-examining their science, they misinterpret and mislead through a compliant, politically biased messenger, the mainstream media.