Guest essay by David Archibald
Even people who are logical enough to write software, and gifted enough to work on research projects at NASA, feel the need to believe in something beyond themselves. Otherwise their meaningless lives would feel shallow, hollow, depressing and purposeless. Some have chucked over the Bible but still cling to a fragment of it, the bit at the beginning talking about how perfect the Earth was before it was despoiled by the hand of Man. It therefore follows that Man should be punished by wearing sackcloth and ashes, or paying carbon taxes. As a religion, belief in global warming is well short of being complicated enough to do some actual good, such as building orhpanages, retirement homes or hospitals for the importune. Relative to a religion that actually does some good, belief in global warming is like a prion relative to the human genome, a little poisonous fragment even simpler than a virus.
Thus XKCD has promoted his simple faith which satisfies a basic need. Firstly it was this cartoon:
Followed by a longer one that starts 20,000 years ago:
That cartoon inspired Javier and Josh to do their own cartoon representations of climate history, both of which are more factually correct than XKCD’s. From that cartoon at about 15,500 BC, this is the setup for the punchline at the end:
XKCD is well-read but perhaps he has missed all the papers that show how the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration slavishly follows temperature with a lag of 800 years, which happens to be the time it takes the oceans to turnover. That is explained by the high solubility of carbon dioxide in water as shown by these graphs of solubility of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and oxygen:
The graphs look similar and all have an inflection point at about 20°C but the scales are somewhat different. Carbon dioxide is 100x more soluble than nitrogen and 50x more soluble than oxygen. If XKCD flagged rising carbon dioxide as a bad thing, it is likely that he has missed another important paper from 2005 entitled Carbon starvation in glacial trees recovered from the L Brea tar pits, southern California. From that paper, “As a result, glacial trees were operating at c i values much closer to the CO2-compensation point for C3 photosynthesis than modern trees, indicating that glacial trees were undergoing carbon starvation.” and this graph which shows that plant starvation was worst at about the time that XKCD flagged the entry of carbon dioxide in his cartoon:
Plant growth shuts down completely at 150 ppm of carbon dioxide. From the glacial low of 180 ppm, it would have only been a fall of another 30 ppm to wipe out all life above sealevel. We didn’t get to that point in the last glacial period but as more and more carbon gets locked up in sedimentary rocks, we might in one of the glaciations to come as we are only 3 million years into what could be a 30 million year long ice age. I think XKCD has his priorities around the wrong way, and we revisit that.
In the meantime let’s examine what is wrong with the end of his graphic which relies upon runaway warming from water vapor compounding upon itself. This is a graphic I popularised 10 years ago:
What that graph demonstrates is the logarithmic heating effect of carbon dioxide. Half of the heating is from the first 20 ppm. By the time we get to the atmospheric concentration in 2017 of 406 ppm, each additional 100 ppm only adds 0.1°C. Everyone knows this to be true. How the global warmers get the heating they need for their belief system is by saying that the little bit of warming from carbon dioxide will cause more water vapor to be held in the atmosphere. Water vapor is also a greenhouse gas which will cause more warming which cause more water vapor and so on ad infinitum, or until they get a graph that can scare them.
This great leap of faith requires a commensurate abandonment of logic and reason, as shown by this graph:
This graph shows the values from the previous graph cumulatively. Almost all the heating effect of carbon dioxide is reached at the level that was causing carbon starvation in the La Brea juniper trees. On top of that in the blue part of the bars is shown the compounding effect of water vapor warming, as required by global warming to reach their targets, with the warming starting at the pre-industrial level of carbon dioxide. Not before, not after, but exactly from the pre-industrial level. Just how could that be?
Of that warming, we should have experienced 1°C to date to stay on schedule. That value remains aspirational as we haven’t seen it in the climate records. Some have said that the heating remains hidden in the deep oceans and will emerge at a time of its choosing. But the oceanic lead indicator is showing rapid cooling. It is safe to say that global warming is wishful thinking – it cannot occur in practise and there is no evidence for it. There was a mild, pleasant and much appreciated warming in the second half of the 20th century. All things have a cause so what was that? Well there is another important paper that XKCD may have missed – Solanki et al’s 2004 paper entitled Unusual activity of the Sun duringrecent decades compared to the previous 11,000 years. From that paper, their figure 3 shows what they mean:
The Sun was more active in the second half of the 20th century than it had been for the previous 10,000 years. As energy from the Sun is what stops the Earth from looking like Pluto, this increase in energy is enough for probable cause for the pleasant warming many of us experienced during our lifetimes. The warming and the rise of carbon dioxide concentration was mere coincidence; correlation does not mean causation, as they say.
The reality of the science has been sorted but leaves the problem that XKDC needs to believe in something. The clock is ticking down in that Scott Pruitt will soon be running the EPA. One thing he is likely to do in the near future is commission a report into climate science. A large number of people would be qualified to write such a report. The one chosen may very well be William Happer, a man of principle much-persecuted by the EPA and recently summoned to the President-elect’s presence. Then, after the report is released, the mantra of “Are you denying the science?” will be turned on its head. Global warming has been a state-sponsored religion with its priesthood funded from the public purse to the tune of $2.5 billion a year in the US alone. The priests of that cult will be plucked off the public teat and the memory of what they preached will fade.
That will start a new problem because Nature abhors a vacuum and some sort of nonsense will enter leftie brains to fill the space currently occupied by global warming. As the Sun caused the pleasant warming of the 20th century perhaps XKCD and his coreligionists could try some Sun worship. That has not always ended well. One of the pharaohs, Akhenaten in 1,353 B.C, switched the ancient Egyptians over to Sun worship. Within a few years of the death of his son Tutankhaman in 1,336 B.C, Akhenaten’s enemies “soon smashed his statues, dismantled his temples, and set out to expunge all memory of him and Nefertiti from Egypt’s historical record” and went back to what they were doing before.
To provide what the lefties need, we may have to go back to some basic animist practices. As a matter of urgency we need something like another Council of Nicaea to formulate a new religion for the lefties to believe in. I have not been idle to that end and bought a copy of The Golden Bough to gain insight on what sort of rituals a new animist belief system might have. The Golden Bough is gruesome reading though with a lot of human and animal sacrifice to ensure good harvests. This is no laughing matter with animal sacrifice recently resurgent in New York City, at least in rap artist Azalia Banks’ apartment.
Finally, XKCD, in the words of Luke Skywalker,‘I know there is good in you.’ Can’t promise when there will be a new belief system made up for you though. In the meantime I would appreciate it if you would not try to force your failed belief system on me and my friends.
David Archibald is the author of American Gripen: The Solution to the F-35 Nightmare.