Is carbon dioxide our friend or our foe?
Guest essay by Iain Aitken
Here is a dossier of key facts about carbon dioxide (and its role in global warming):
· It is an incombustible, colourless, odourless, tasteless and non-toxic gas
· It is a plant nutrient and, as the ‘fuel’ of photosynthesis and the creation of oxygen, it is absolutely essential to the existence of life on Earth
· Its fertilisation effect has meant that, thanks to our anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions increasing concentrations in the atmosphere, crop yields have improved dramatically to date and will continue to improve in the future
· It is a weak greenhouse gas
· Global warming precedes, and then causes, increases in carbon dioxide emissions
· Most global warming experienced since 1950 can be attributed to natural climate variability, rather than enhanced greenhouse gas warming from anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. Furthermore the rate of global warming experienced since 1950 has many precedents and is not remotely alarming
Carbon dioxide concentrations today are amongst the lowest found in the entire history of the Earth
· Only 0.04% of our atmosphere is carbon dioxide, which makes it what scientists call a ‘trace gas’; it requires extremely sensitive equipment even to detect it
· There is a very poor correlation between carbon dioxide concentrations and atmospheric temperatures so some thing (or things) other than carbon dioxide must be the key driver (or drivers) of global warming
· Carbon dioxide exerts a diminishing warming effect as its concentrations increase and is today almost entirely exhausted as a greenhouse gas
· At low enough concentrations carbon dioxide could cause catastrophic climate change and the extinction of all life on Earth
· Those who would assert that global warming is man-made and dangerous are denying the facts that global warming has been slowing down at precisely the same time that anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions have been rising and that no unequivocal causal relationship has ever been established between those emissions and observed global warming.
The world-renowned theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson has said, ‘The possibly harmful climatic effects of carbon dioxide have been greatly exaggerated… the benefits clearly outweigh the possible damage’. Dr William Happer, Professor of Physics at Princeton University, has said, ‘No chemical compound in the atmosphere has a worse reputation than carbon dioxide, thanks to the single-minded demonization of this natural and essential atmospheric gas… The incredible list of supposed horrors that increasing carbon dioxide will bring the world is pure belief disguised as science…. We’re really in a carbon dioxide famine now… increased carbon dioxide will be good for mankind.’
So the evidence and science is unequivocal: not only are our carbon dioxide emissions innocuous, they could actually be hugely beneficial for humanity.
There now follows another dossier of key alternative facts about carbon dioxide (and its role in global warming):
· It is a highly toxic atmospheric gas that is a dangerous pollutant of our precious planet
· As a result of the warming associated with our carbon dioxide emissions crop yields will fall across the world causing widespread famines
· It is a powerful greenhouse gas, and, as such, is a major contributor to the current global warming crisis
· Increases in carbon dioxide emissions precede, and then cause, global warming
· Most global warming experienced since 1950 can be attributed to anthropogenic activity, in particular anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. The rate of global warming experienced since 1950 is alarming and unprecedented
· Carbon dioxide concentrations today are at the highest level ever recorded
· As a result of mankind’s carbon dioxide emissions, largely from burning fossil fuels, carbon dioxide concentrations in our atmosphere have already reached a monumental 400ppm
· There is an extraordinarily close correlation between carbon dioxide concentrations and atmospheric temperatures
· Carbon dioxide exerts an increasing warming effect as its concentrations increase
· At high enough concentrations carbon dioxide could cause catastrophic climate change and the extinction of all life on Earth
· Those who would deny that global warming is man-made and dangerous are denying the fact that man-made carbon dioxide emissions are soaring and that such emissions cause enhanced greenhouse gas warming – and the equally unequivocal fact that ten of the hottest years on record have fallen in this century.
Dr Carmen Boening, Climate Scientist at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has said, ‘Reaching the 400ppm mark should be a reminder for us that carbon dioxide levels have been shooting up at an alarming rate in the recent past due to human activity.’ The environmental journalist Michael Specter has said, ‘Humanity has nearly suffocated the globe with carbon dioxide.’
So the evidence and science is unequivocal: not only are our carbon dioxide emissions dangerous, they could actually cause the extinction of all life on Earth.
Combining the conclusions from the original facts and the alternative facts, it is clear that carbon dioxide is unequivocally innocuous and dangerous and unequivocally beneficial and catastrophic.
In a court of law I would have no trouble whatsoever in defending both sets of ‘facts’ and am absolutely confident that I would leave the court a free man in either case. By using selective quotes, being selective with the evidence, being selective with the science, being selective with the timeframes, overlaying all those with emotion, rhetoric and value judgements, and then deploying a dollop of dissimulation and a soupcon of sophistry, I have turned a scientifically objective description of carbon dioxide’s role in global warming into political propaganda – both dossiers of key facts about carbon dioxide, although ‘true’, are extremely ‘dodgy dossiers’. My point is that very different narratives can be spun about the role of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere without having to resort to lies – the people who spin these narratives are relying on the belief that the vast majority of the public, politicians and journalists will not realize that they are being spun a story – and even if they did they would probably struggle to understand the scientific differences between the competing stories and so be inclined to ‘just believe the authorities’ who spin the ‘carbon dioxide is our foe’ story.
Not only might the average member of the public find it extremely difficult to determine the ‘truth’ about carbon dioxide (and its role in global warming) when faced with the above presentations of apparently complex and contradictory alternative facts, even highly educated, highly intelligent (and even highly scientifically literate) people are likely to feel confused. We should form our views logically and rationally based on all the facts – but faced with the above sets of apparently impossible to reconcile facts about carbon dioxide this is very, very hard. Consequently many will perhaps set aside the facts and simply fall back on how they feel about carbon dioxide. And since the second story, that ‘carbon dioxide is our foe’, is perhaps the only story most will have been exposed to (especially in Europe, and quintessentially in Britain) it is far more likely to be the one felt to be true. If you associate carbon dioxide with dangerous warming of the planet then you may feel bad about it; if you associate it with the benign greening of the planet then you may feel good about it. How people feel about carbon dioxide can prove far more successful in shaping public opinion than any number of complicated facts, something very well understood by those who want to ‘sell’ the ‘man-made climate change crisis’ idea, who have established a narrative for carbon dioxide and its role in global warming by flooding the media with emotionally powerful negative images, e.g. polar bears on ice floes floating out to sea, dying coral reefs, flooded cities (preferably flooded American cities). This substitution (triumph?) of political narrative and emotion for scientific objectivity and rationality is a fundamental problem that permeates the entire climate change debate.
So is carbon dioxide our friend or our foe? As set out above, in some ways it is (or could be) the one and in some ways it is (or could be) the other. The vast majority of the public not only do not understand these scientific differences, they positively don’t want to have to understand these scientific differences. As Richard Lindzen has said, ‘Most arguments about global warming boil down to science versus authority. For much of the public authority will generally win since they do not wish to deal with the science.’ Instead they will form their view on the climate change debate almost exclusively on how they feel about it based primarily on the narrative spun in the media (a narrative that is utterly dominated by the propaganda of the climate change alarmists). As Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, ‘The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.’ This is why endlessly repeated simplistic soundbites like ‘climate change is man-made and dangerous’ and ‘the science is settled’ and ‘97% of scientists agree’ have been so powerful. Is there any real truth in these statements? It doesn’t matter – just keep repeating them. In a 140 characters or fewer Tweeting, knee-jerk reaction, internet-driven world of shortening attention spans where ‘TLDR’ (Too Long; Didn’t Read’) is a typical reaction to any complex issue few will take the very considerable time and very considerable trouble to root out, investigate and understand the scientific arguments of climate change sceptics that climate change is probably predominantly driven by natural ocean-atmosphere oscillations, natural solar variations (irradiation and cosmic ray flux), natural cloud cover variations and the (natural) Milankovitch Effect when all they have to unthinkingly believe is that ‘climate change is man-made and dangerous – and that’s a fact’.