Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to the BBC, stratospheric cooling proves global warming is anthropogenic, but we should expect a little global cooling during the coming grand solar minimum.
COP26: The truth behind the new climate change denial
By Rachel Schraer & Kayleen Devlin
BBC Reality Check
The claim: The sun will cool, halting global warming
People have long claimed, incorrectly, that the past century’s temperature changes are just part of the Earth’s natural cycle, rather than the result of human behaviour.
A grand solar minimum is a real phenomenon when the Sun gives off less energy as part of its natural cycle.
Studies suggest the Sun may well go through a weaker phase sometime this century, but that this would lead, at most, to a temporary 0.1 – 0.2C cooling of the planet.
That’s not nearly enough to offset human activity, which has already warmed the planet by about 1.2C over the past 200 years and will continue to rise, possibly topping 2.4C by the end of the century.
We know recent temperature rises weren’t caused by the changes in the Sun’s natural cycle because the layer of atmosphere nearest the earth is warming, while the layer of atmosphere closest to the Sun – the stratosphere – is cooling.
The claim: Global warming is good
Various posts circulating online claim global warming will make parts of the earth more habitable, and that cold kills more people than heat does.
These arguments often cherry-pick favourable facts while ignoring any that contradict them.
For example, it’s true that some inhospitably cold parts of the world could become easier to live in for a time.
But in these same places warming could also lead to extreme rainfall, affecting living conditions and the ability to grow crops,
The claim: Climate change action will make people poorer
A common claim made by those against efforts to tackle climate change is that fossil fuels have been essential to driving economic growth.
So limiting their use, the argument goes, will inevitably stunt this growth and increase the cost of living, hurting the poorest.
In many places, renewable electricity – powered by wind or solar energy for example – is now cheaper than electricity powered by coal, oil or gas.
The claim: Renewable energy is dangerously unreliable
Misleading posts claiming renewable energy failures led to blackouts went viral earlier in the year, when a massive electricity grid failure left millions of Texans in the dark and cold.
“Blackouts are an artefact of poor electricity generation and distribution management,” says John Gluyas, executive director of the Durham Energy Institute.
He says the claim that renewable energy causes blackouts is “nonsensical…. Venezuela has oodles of oil and frequent blackouts“.
…Read more: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-59251912
Stratospheric cooling is not as simple as the BBC portrays. A few weeks ago a student in Alaska upended understanding of the cross polar jet, an atmospheric phenomena in the tropopause, the boundary between the troposphere and the stratosphere, so claims that stratospheric science is settled are dubious.
And there is another, much more powerful Greenhouse Gas which could be influencing conditions in the stratosphere.
Stratospheric water vapour changes as a possible contributor to observed stratospheric cooling
The observed cooling of the lower stratosphere over the last two decades has been attributed, in previous studies, largely to a combination of stratospheric ozone loss and carbon dioxide increase, and as such it is meant to provide one of the best pieces of evidence for an anthropogenic cause to climate change. This study shows how increases in stratospheric water vapour, inferred from available observations, may be capable of causing as much of the observed cooling as ozone loss does; as the reasons for the stratospheric water vapour increase are neither fully understood nor well characterized, it shows that it remains uncertain whether the cooling of the lower stratosphere can yet be fully attributable to human influences. In addition, the changes in stratospheric water vapour may have contributed, since 1980, a radiative forcing which enhances that due to carbon dioxide alone by 40%.Read more: https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/1999GL010487
There is a strong case that global warming is good for humans – far more people die in winter than summer, especially in cold countries. Winter is deadly for tropical apes, even when we have clothes and warm homes to shelter in. We would need a lot of global warming to redress that imbalance. Tropical regions are already used to dealing with massive rainfall, even our smallest urban drains are around a yard across. A little civic engineering could deal with any plausible change in rainfall.
As for the most absurd BBC claim, the Venezuelan comparison, the claim that renewable energy can be addressed with better power management, that one could actually be done – if by power management you mean switching off all major power consumers, such as residential home heating, when the renewables fail. All the Venezuelan experience proves is governments have unlimited ability to stuff up their basic responsibilities, like keeping the lights on.
Renewable instability and the need for backup exposes the BBC claim that climate action will not make people poorer as a total fiction.
Britain came very close to an involuntary switch off a month ago, when wind and solar failed for a week, and energy hungry mainland Europe consumed most of the available Russian gas. Even now, thanks to cooler than expected temperatures, demand is straining supply. The power shortages created by renewable energy failures cause electricity prices to spike and, in September, caused a string of household energy retail companies to collapse. Renewable energy might be cheap, when it works, but the frequent failures of renewable energy to deliver are very expensive indeed.
Worse, the people who run the backup systems also demand subsidies or other forms of compensation. Having billions of dollars worth of expensive plant sit idle even some of the time is financially intolerable, when the successs of energy investments is measured in terms of return on investment. Fossil fuel plant operators demand to be compensated at a level comparable to the profit they would have made if they were supplying power all the time, otherwise they cut their losses, decommission the backup power plants, salvage what valuable components they can for use elsewhere, and leave. So it doesn’t matter how cheap renewables are, the cost of maintaining both the renewable system and the hot standby fossil fuel backup system is what makes electricity in renewable heavy nations so expensive.
There was a time the BBC would never have published such half baked nonsense, they would have delved into the detail of their own claims, and pointed out the issues I just listed, in the interests of maintaining the BBC’s high standards of journalistic integrity. I grew up watching BBC documentaries which made an exemplary effort to present all sides of the issues being discussed, and provided evidence to back their editorial position. My teachers used to sometimes show us BBC productions in class, as examples of how to analyse issues and argue both sides of an issue. But in my opinion those days of dedicated objectivity are long gone.