Guest essay by Ari Halperin
Many people hold the opinion that the early full reports of the IPCC Working Group I were scientifically wholesome, at least for some time. This might be true for some parts of the reports, but their treatment of the carbon cycle was fraudulent from the start, i.e., from the IPCC First Assessment Report (FAR, 1990).
The claim that man-released CO2 stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years was necessary for the alarmist case. It was required to justify the notion of “commitment” to the temperature rise that might happen few hundred years in the future according to the alarmist computer models. It allowed to exaggerate future CO2 concentrations, and to demand premature action (a typical high pressure selling tactic – act now, regret later). And IPCC pulled out all the stops to justify such claims. It tried to create the impression that CO2 is something like a demon from the underworld: ignoring the laws of physics, harmful and dangerous, and difficult to exorcize. This is a claim that was made in FAR:
“Because of its complex cycle, the decay of excess CO2 in the atmosphere does not follow a simple exponential curve … For example, the first reduction by 50 percent occurs within some 50 years, whereas the reduction by another 50 percent (to 25 percent of the initial value) requires approximately another 250 years” (FAR WGI, p. 8).
The authors of this text did not explain how CO2 knows when it is in the “first reduction” and when it is in another one, which is supposed to take five times longer. This ideation is not grounded in any scientific evidence. In another place, the authors claim:
“The added carbon dioxide declines in a markedly non-exponential manner; there is an initial fast decline over the first 10 year period, followed by a more gradual decline over the next 100 years and a rather slow decline over the thousand year time-scale. The time period for the first half-life is typically around 50 years for the second, about 250 years …” (FAR WGI, p. 59).
The report also presented a carbon budget, in which emissions minus sinks should equal the CO2 build-up in the air. The report acknowledged the ocean sink but dismissed the land biota sink. Thus, the budget had a huge error, equal to 30% of the fossil fuels emissions, as shown in the following table taken from it:
FAR WGI, p. 13:
|Emissions from fossil fuels into the atmosphere||5.4 ± 0.5|
|Emissions from deforestation and land use||1.6 ± 1.0|
|Accumulation in the atmosphere||3.4 ± 0.2|
|Uptake by the ocean||2.0 ± 0.8|
|Net imbalance||1.6 ± 1.4|
The error, misleadingly called “net imbalance” by the authors, was equal to CO2 removal due to the extra fertilization. This is how the IPCC explained its decision to disregard CO2 fertilization:
“There are possible processes on land which could account for the missing CO2 (but it has not been possible to verify them). They include the stimulation of vegetative growth by increasing CO2 levels (the CO2 fertilization effect), the possible enhanced productivity of vegetation under warmer conditions, and the direct effect of fertilization from agricultural fertilizers and from nitrogenous releases into the atmosphere.” (FAR WGI, p.13, emphasis is mine).
Yes, the IPCC stated that the mechanism of photosynthesis was not known well enough and needed verification! The hundred years of growing plants in CO2-enriched greenhouses were not considered sufficient verification. The Nierenberg Report (1983) was not an authority for them, and neither was the research by Sherwood Idso. Simply put, the IPCC did not like the fact of CO2 fertilization for many reasons, so it threw it out in calculating carbon budget.
This episode sheds light not only on the carbon cycle treatment, but also on the IPCC’s epistemology in other areas. It decides which empirical facts to acknowledge and which to ignore, and makes up whatever it needs. Since the early 1990’s climate-related research has been allocated huge budgets, and it produced a large volume of results of various quality. That allowed the alarmists to cherry pick not only data, but even physical processes. The presence of honest scientists put some limits on these machinations, but the alarmists found ways around that obstacle.
In fact, even in 1990 the IPCC was well aware of the enhanced fertilization effect, making land biota the second largest sink for atmospheric CO2, and did acknowledge it in another part of the report:
“Most land plants have a system of photosynthesis which will respond positively to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (‘the carbon dioxide fertilization effect’) but the response varies with species…” (FAR WGI, p. XXXI).
This illustrates one way they got around the honest scientists: formally acknowledge a scientific fact, but then disregard or suppress it in the models. In this case the IPCC acknowledged CO2 fertilization effect in a prominent place, but then ignored it when performing their calculations and modeling! Such dishonesty is hard to imagine.
Deceitfully disregarding the land carbon sink in this way resulted in a huge error in the IPCC’s favor. To cover their tracks, they called that error an “imbalance.” “Imbalance” sounds like a technical term in climatology, because it is similar to the term “unbalanced model,” which is frequently used in the world of climate models (which are wrong for other reasons). Thus, the deception was committed, and the tracks were successfully covered.
But this is not the end. The same report stated:
For each gas in the table, except CO2, the lifetime is defined here as the ratio of the atmospheric content to the total rale of removal. This time scale also characterizes the rate of adjustment of the atmospheric concentrations if the emission rates are changed abruptly. CO2 is a special case since it has no real sinks but is merely circulated between various reservoirs (atmosphere ocean biota) The lifetime of CO2 given in the table is a rough indication of the time it would take for the CO2 concentration to adjust to changes in the emissions… (FAR WGI, my emphasis. Table 1.1 gives the CO2 “lifetime” as 50 200 years).
No real sinks? How about the ocean? Is it not real, or has “it been impossible to verify that it was real”? A relatively minor point is that the word “reservoir” is subtly misleading, because it suggests a fixed capacity, while the capacity of the ocean and biota are flexible and increase with the increase of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.
Reports following the FAR could not ignore the land sink, so other devices were employed to underestimate CO2 removal from the air. Anybody familiar with the ways of the IPCC would correctly guess that dishonest calibration of models was not low on the list. From IPCC Climate Change 1994 (a minor report):
The carbon cycle models were calibrated to balance the contemporary carbon budget according to earlier estimates (IPCC 1990 and 1992), rather than the budget shown in Table 1, which was not finalised until after the model calculations had been completed (IPCC Climate Change 1994, p. 19).
This reminds me a joke: “I was going to include a check for the full amount of my debt with this letter, but, unfortunately, I have already sealed the envelope.”
IPCC Climate Change 1994 was the first report in which the infamous Bern model reared its ugly head. According to the IPCC, it is a simple formula for the surplus CO2 concentration, approximating results of the (wrongly calibrated) complex physical models:
“We chose one model, the ‘Bern model’, for a number of important illustrative calculations, because its results were generally near the mid-point of the results obtained with all models, and because complete descriptions exist in the literature (Joos et al., 1991a; Siegenthaler and Joos, 1992)” (IPCC Climate Change 1994, p. 59).
The IPCC Second Assessment Report (SAR, 1995) spread further confusion to cover the deception:
“Carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere by a number of processes that operate on different time-scales. It has a relatively long residence time in the climate system — of the order of a century or more” (SAR Synthesis, p.9; my emphasis).
First, notice the semantic trickery. The first sentence refers to the atmosphere, while the second sentence refers to the climate system, which is defined by the UNFCCC as follows:
“’Climate system’ means the totality of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and geosphere and their interactions.”
The IPCC SAR Synthesis was negotiated line-by-line by representatives of more than a hundred governments, which might explain some of the rough transitions. The natural interpretation of this passage is that the residence time refers to the residence time of the carbon dioxide in atmosphere. Residence time is usually defined as the average time that a molecule resides in the system under consideration. The residence time of CO2 in atmosphere is about five years. IPCC probably meant not the residence time, but something like “e-folding time of excess concentration,” but wanted to avoid any hint of exponential decay. So it came up with tortured language and a flatly wrong statement. The paradox of climate alarmism is that the further it gets from truth, the stronger it becomes: Credo quia absurdum. Some opponents of Climatism noticed this obvious blunder, made much of it, and missed a big deception hidden behind the blunder. To add insult to injury, the Climatists laughed at the opponents, accusing them of not understanding “IPCC science.”
This mix of malice and incompetence has proven to be a potent weapon in the IPCC’s arsenal.
I rest my case. The deception is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. But nothing in this article is intended to suggest that the scientists who contributed to or were referenced in the IPCC reports were complicit in this deception.
An interesting political effect has been taking place since the 1992 Rio Summit. Some developing countries have been underreporting deforestation and the resulting CO2 emissions. This underreporting peaked in 2008, probably spurred by the carbon credits trading and (unsuccessful) negotiations of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) paper. Since the 1997 Kyoto protocol, some industrialized countries have also been underreporting CO2 emissions from industrial activities. The most dramatic case is China. I will refrain from making obvious comments on these facts. Neither will I address the failure of the formerly mainstream media and/or con scientists (“consensus scientists” – no bigger offense intended) to inform the public about this cheating.
But this cheating led to underestimation of anthropogenic CO2 emissions in the last 15-20 years, and consequent underestimation of the sink rates. Thus, the over-estimating IPCC models might have come to match the problematic IPCC data.
Read more commentaries on Climatism on my blog.
——- The following remarks are more technical and/or detailed ——
Most natural processes can be described by analytic functions, which can be decomposed into Taylor’s series. In some cases, discarding all members of the series but the first two provides a reasonable approximation. Actually, engineering and physics textbooks often advise students this way: if you are dealing with an unfamiliar process or system, try to represent it by the first two members of Taylor’s series. In the case of the atmospheric CO2 concentration, this gives
where C is the surplus (over the equilibrium) CO2 concentration, and the constant > 0. This is the equation for exponential decay:
The value is the half-life of the surplus concentration. Of course, this is just one reasonable approach to the problem. More research could have shown that the half-life is not constant, but varies depending on time, historical emissions, sinks saturation, or other variables. But so far, neither research nor observations contradict hypothesis of constant half-life of surplus CO2.
Unable to reconcile their carbon cycle pseudo-science with either physics or observations, the IPCC and its supporting authors used two more distractions. One was to focus on long-term processes (like look at sedimentation, do not look at plant fertilization and ocean convection). Another one was to frame discussion around the so-called “airborne fraction.” Unsurprisingly, this pseudo-physical quantity is defined completely differently in different Assessment Reports.
P.188.8.131.52 in WGI, AR4:
The ‘airborne fraction’ (atmospheric increase in CO2 concentration/fossil fuel emissions) provides a basic benchmark for assessing short- and long-term changes in these processes.
Glossary, AR5: Airborne fraction [means] The fraction of total CO2 emissions (from fossil fuel and land use change) remaining in the atmosphere.
This has been standard operating procedure in the IPCC since at least since the Third Assessment Report (2001). When some of its politically important “scientific conclusions” were proven wrong, the IPCC changed not the conclusions but the definitions of the terms used in them.
Next, the “airborne fraction” is not a fraction. Outside of math, the word fraction suggests a quantity between 0 and 1. The “airborne fraction,” as defined by the IPCC, can be anything from -∞ to +∞. For example, if anthropogenic emissions decrease and become half of the sinks, the airborne fraction would be -2 (in the absence of other natural factors). If anthropogenic emissions become zero, the airborne fraction is likely to be -∞ (a negative increase in concentration divided by zero). Nevertheless, volcanic eruptions can cause a CO2 concentration increase in a particular year, even in the absence of anthropogenic emissions, in which case the airborne fraction would be +∞. Finally, the “airborne fraction” is physically meaningless, because annual CO2 sinks are practically independent of the annual anthropogenic emissions. The “airborne fraction” is like oranges divided by apples. More precisely, it is (oranges – apples) / oranges. For the sake of accuracy, the “airborne fraction” of CO2 had been used by actual scientists before the IPCC, but it was used in a different context, in which it was appropriate and meaningful.
More nonsense from IPCC reports follow, with my inline comments. First, this is from the IPCC’s 1992 Supplemental Assessment (p.35):
For a given emissions scenario, the differences in predicted changes in CO2 concentrations, neglecting biospheric feedbacks, are up to 30% [more than the historical contribution of the US and Western Europe together – AH], but this is unlikely to represent the major uncertainty in the prediction of future climate change [because we are making a forgery, anyway] compared to uncertainties in estimating future patterns of trace gas emissions, and in quantifying physical climate feedback processes. Future atmospheric CO2 concentrations resulting from given emissions scenarios may be estimated by assuming that the same fraction remained airborne as has been observed during the last decade, i.e., 46+7% [see previous remark].
SAR WGI, pp. 16-17:
CO2 is removed from the atmosphere by a number of processes that operate on different time-scales scenarios [Not true. There are two main processes – increased plant fertilization and the ocean sink – and they operate on the same timescale of a few decades. – AH], and is subsequently transferred to various reservoirs, some of which eventually return CO2 to the atmosphere. Some simple analyses of CO2 changes have used the concept of a single characteristic time-scale for this gas. Such analyses are of limited value because a single time-scale cannot capture the behaviour of CO2 under different emission scenarios [The IPCC author is a moron, confusing e-folding time with timescale – AH]. This is in contrast to methane, for example, whose atmospheric lifetime is dominantly controlled by a single process: oxidation by OH in the atmosphere. For CO2 the fastest process is uptake into vegetation and the surface layer of the oceans which occurs over a few years. Various other sinks operate on the century time-scale (e.g., transfer to soils and to the deep ocean) [Confused again. Neither soils nor deep ocean are sinks for atmospheric CO2 in the atmosphere. Soils receive CO2 from biota, and the deep ocean exchanges CO2 with the ocean surface. – AH] and so have a less immediate, but no less important, effect on the atmospheric concentration. Within 30 years about 40-60% of the CO2 currently released to the atmosphere is removed. However, if emissions were reduced, the CO2 in the vegetation and ocean surface water would soon equilibrate with that in the atmosphere, [There is no CO2 in vegetation. The moron confuses carbon and carbon dioxide. Ocean water circulates, and the surface water is exchanged with deep ocean every few years on average. – AH] and the rate of removal would then be determined by the slower response of woody vegetation, soils, and transfer into the deeper layers of the ocean. Consequently, most of the excess atmospheric CO2 would be removed over about a century although a portion would remain airborne for thousands of years because transfer to the ultimate sink – ocean sediments – is very slow.
TAR WGI, p. 213:
Among those countries that have reported land-use emissions data to the UNFCCC, there are significant discrepancies between the primary data used in emissions inventories and the data available in international surveys; for example, rates of deforestation differ from rates reported by FAO (1993b) by as much as a factor of six (Houghton and Ramakrishna, 1999) [so we will select whatever data fits our models best].
Thus, every IPCC report can be compared to a garbage bin in a public square: delicious leftovers from good restaurants are thrown together with rotten fruits and sprinkled liberally with bird feces. One might take a look at the bin to see what sort of food is served in a nearby restaurant, but eating from the trash is not advisable. Some distinguished scientists contributed to the IPCC reports, especially the WGI, but their work lost all value when it was mixed with alarmist viewpoints.