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Re: Climate Change-Facts vs. Politics.
I’ve never really understood why a topic that should be grounded in hard science repeatedly gets hijacked by politicos on both sides of the aisle.
This is a TLDR digest of a much longer blog post from 2020, which can be found at the end of this post.
The fact that this debate has polarized around two extremist camps, “climate alarmists” and “climate deniers,” highlights the current state of affairs. I am neither. This thread contains highlights of a much longer blog post I wrote, which I will share at the end.
What People Agree On:
1. The planet is currently in a warming trend.
2. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have been rising.
3. Human civilization does indeed have an effect on the environment, in some cases deleterious and in other cases beneficial
4. The Earth is 4.5 billion years old and has seen varying climate epochs throughout the ages.
5. Humans have fretted about climate change for hundreds of years – the current debate is not new.
6. We all want a cleaner, healthier planet.
What Is Controversial:
1. Global Warming (GW) is real, but is Anthropogenic (man-made) Global Warming (AGW) real, and if so, to what degree?
2. Should CO2 be our primary concern?
3. Whether we as a species can really do anything to influence the climate, and if so,
4. What should we do about it, and how much would it cost?
Some historical context first. Humans have fretted about climate change for eons and have always believed in the ability to influence climate. The “modern” debate over AGW originated in the early 1800’s, with Joseph Fourier’s first attempt at modeling the “greenhouse effect.”
Perhaps the best-known and most controversial chart in the climate change debate is the “Hockey Stick” chart put forth in 1998 by Michael Mann of Penn State. This chart (Figure 1) was made famous in Al Gore’s 2006. book and documentary An Inconvenient Truth.
There are many controversies around Mann’s methodologies. In short, Mann not only used cherry-picked proxies (like tree rings from specific pines in very specific locations), he also used an algorithm that effectively over-weighted near-term trends and under-weighted history.
This methodology effectively erased the so-called Medieval Warm Period (MWP) – a 300-year period during which temperatures were significantly warmer than they are now. See Figure 2:
During my research, I sought out non-partisan experts and came to know Professor Robert Giegengack, former chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Science at the University of Pennsylvania and is now emeritus faculty there. I will share many of this thoughts here.
Giegengack points out the importance of the BIG picture — Phanerozoic time scale over the last ~500 million years. Figure 3 is a chart of atmospheric CO2 concentration over “Phanerozoic time.”
Figure 4 is a regression of atmospheric CO2 concentration against temperature proxies over this period.
There are some interesting conclusions to be drawn and questions raised:
1. CO2 concentrations have been MUCH higher than they are now (currently around 420 ppm, or 0.04% of the atmosphere)…
2. CO2 concentration correlation to historical temperature proxies is zero to negative throughout the eons. If this is the case, what else could be causing the current GW?
3. The Earth teemed with life during these periods of much higher CO2 concentration, but did these spikes in CO2 corroborate with mass extinctions?
4. To put things in perspective, homo sapiens have been around only 200,000 years. The Agricultural Revolution began around 12,000 years ago, and the Industrial Revolution began about 170 years ago. Why do the “Hockey Stick” analyses arbitrarily focus on the ~100-150 years?
5. The implication here is that the current bout of GW might not be anthropogenic, in which case many of the proposed solutions predicated upon curbing CO2 emissions (many of which come at great economic/human cost) as the answer to halting AGW might be fundamentally flawed.
So here are some FAQs:
FAQ 1: If anthropogenic CO2 is not the cause of GW, what else could be causing the current GW?
There are many, many variables that affect the climate, with no one variable claiming any disproportionate effect. Correlation does not mean causality.
On this point, Professor William Happer of Princeton, in his testimony to the U.S. Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee in 2009, stated that the climate record actually shows that temp increases PRECEDED CO2 concentrations by ~800 years!
Notably, Jonathan DuHamel’s paper presents a very compelling case for “Milankovitch” cycles of the sun, which are long-lived cycles spanning 23,000 to 100,000 years.
Some comments from Giegengack: “As I will lay out, my study of a longer time perspective has convinced me
1) that there are many good, fully defensible reasons to stop using fossil hydrocarbons as “fuel”, and…”
2) that our pre-occupation with AGW has kept us from addressing many environmental problems that are more immediate and more threatening to human welfare than AGW, and can be addressed with resources and technology now at our disposal. We are barking up the wrong tree!!!”
“We can’t “stop climate change”, or “reverse global warming.” Nothing we are doing, or even contemplating doing, will have a measurable effect on the atmospheric concentration of CO2 for many years, probably centuries. Climate will continue to change.”
Professor Freeman Dyson, another highly respected Princeton physicist and a Democrat, believes it is hubristic to think that we can predict climate change or that we can meaningfully alter it.
FAQ 2: Did past spikes in CO2 cause the mass extinctions?
Giegengack: “An atmospheric CO2 spike is more likely to have been an effect of a mass die-off than its cause…Under MUCH higher CO2 concentrations than now, plants and animals very much like what we have now thrived.”
Again, most studies supporting AGW I have seen arbitrarily use time periods that correlate with human existence and in some cases choose to only show the last 200 years – this would equate to focusing on the just last couple seconds of a 470-day period if each day = 1 mm years!
FAQ 3: If CO2 increases have little effect on temperatures and may even lag temperature increases, could rising CO2 concentration itself be dangerous?
Giegengack: “Analyses of stomatal density for the period during which fossils of land plants are available (last 470 mm yrs) show that atmospheric concentration of CO2 has been as high as 7,000 ppm (Ordovician-Silurian) and fell as low as 180-400 ppm only in the last few mm yrs.”
“At what concentration is CO2 an atmospheric “pollutant”? 400 ppm is only 0.04% of the atmosphere. Oxygen remains at 21%. Water vapor can rise as high as 4%. By any measure, CO2 is in the atmosphere as a “trace” component, but nonetheless an essential component.“
Professor Giegengack: ‘It is disingenuous, and deliberately misleading, to refer to CO2 as a “pollutant.”’
If the average atmospheric CO2 concentration over the last 470 mm years was 2500-3000 with a high of 7000, and the “recent lows” of 170-180 ppm were the lowest in Phanerozoic history during which life flourished, why is the current 420 ppm an “existential crisis”?
FAQ 4: What about all the extreme weather events we’re reading about almost daily in the media? Isn’t that due to climate change?
Chris Wright, a successful energy entrepreneur who is also an engineer and self-professed “climate geek,” presented this chart:
As a resident of California, I’m no stranger to wildfire risk. Again, climate change is the popular culprit, but actual fire data dating all the way back to 1926 (as collected by the National Interagency Fire Center, NIFC) points in the opposite direction:
Somewhere along the line (specifically around the time of the Agricultural Revolution 12,000 years ago), we humans stopped adapting to climate change and running away from disasters. Maybe we should be spending more money on adapting to climate change versus trying to change it?
In summary, the North Star in my quest to cut through the obfuscation rests upon 3 factors:
1. reliance upon complete data sets whenever possible,
2. questioning studies that pick arbitrary starting points for analysis,
3. examining underlying incentives and motivations.
GW is real, and the planet is currently in a warming trend — but the Earth has been in cooling and warming cycles countless times before and will continue to do so regardless of what humans do.
Be wary of studies that conflate correlation with causality – especially over arbitrarily short time periods. The modern AGW movement originated with the so-called Mann “Hockey Stick” which was produced using questionable/controversial techniques.
Despite all the defenses of the Mann “Hockey Stick,” I have yet to see a study that incorporates “Phanerozoic time” (the last 500 mm years) that still asserts that today’s temperatures/CO2 concentrations are “unprecedented.”
Based on everything I have read, I believe CO2 is one of potentially thousands of variables that play a part in determining the Earth’s temperature, but it does not appear to be a statistically significant variable in and of itself.
Despite the fact that hydrocarbons have become much cleaner over the last century and have at the same time brought cheap energy abundance to billions, modern politics has latched onto CO2 as the bogeyman responsible for everything from floods and fires to malaria and drought.
The Earth has been MUCH warmer and has had MUCH higher CO2 concentrations long before the Industrial Revolution – yet life flourished.
To put “400 ppm” into perspective, again requoting Giegengack, “atmospheric concentration of CO2 has been as high as 7,000 ppm (Ordovician-Silurian) and fell as low as 180-400 ppm only in the last few million years.”
170-280 ppm is the LOWEST that CO2 concentrations have fallen in Phanerozoic history (the last 540 mm years). Some reputable scientists (e.g. Princeton’s Happen) actually worry that our level of CO2 might levels of CO2 might fall low enough to compromise photosynthesis!
Yes, there are negative externalities to hydrocarbon use, but there are also negative externalities to solar and wind, because these are intermittent sources of energy that require battery storage which are dirty to produce and dirty to dispose of.
There is no legitimate discussion without weighing all factors, and this article sums up some of the externalities I talked about:
There is no legitimate discussion without weighing all factors, and this article sums up some of the externalities I talked about:
Despite the “shale miracle” that brought cheap oil to the world, the world is still energy starved, with 2-3 billion people who still lack basic cheap electricity which can really only be delivered via hydrocarbons.
There is also no legitimate discussion about “climate change solutions” unless you consider the effects of removing hydrocarbons from an energy-starved world. The developing world would most assuredly feel a disproportionate effect from such policies.
In terms of solutions, I believe that money is far better spent on how to adapt to inevitable climate change instead and making hydrocarbons cleaner instead of quixotically attempting to curb CO2 emissions, which again seems like the wrong variable to solve for.
Instead of forcing mitigation of a chimerical variable like CO2 by curbing hydrocarbon use (which would bring untold misery to billions) it may be more productive to pour funds into adaptation, e.g. how better to weather natural disasters.
The irony in the ESG movement is that we’ve traded ME oil dependency for rare earth dependency on the Congo/China — all in the name of finding better ways to store solar energy. We’ve forgotten that nature has already invented the perfect solar battery — the hydrocarbon molecule.
END OF ORIGINAL THREAD.
And to bring us to the present, this came out today:
Another fascinating article that points out the importance of the BIG (Phanerozoic) picture.
"Modern human civilization, with its permanent agriculture and settlements, has developed over just the past 10,000 years or so...Compared to most of Earth’s history, today is unusually cold; we now live in what geologists call an interglacial..."
What's even more interesting is that the so-called Cambrian Explosion (of life on Earth) occurred during this extremely warm epoch.
Again, the importance of the BIG Phanerozoic picture can’t be ignored. In addition to 100k-year Milankovitch cycle periodicity, scientists like @nshaviv and @liraranda have found 32 MILLION-year climate variation periodicity that obviously has zero to do w/CO2 emissions.
Wonder why he was censored?
So this issue was raised at the BRK shareholder meeting: "Elon Musk has stated that [BRK's] energy proposal for TX spending more than $9B for new generating capacity is wrong. Instead, Mr. Musk argues that load balancing using battery storage is the appropriate course of action."
Greg Abel: "The big difference between a battery proposal and our proposal is that we will have power that can be generated continuously for 7 consistent days..."
"Where if you went to a battery solution, you may release that power that's been stored for 4 hours. But we're talking 4 DAYS of a problem, not 4 hours, and it's just a completely different cost equation and solutions."
This is definitely one of the best blueprints I’ve seen for impoverishing the world and achieving nothing in the process.
Another idiotic take:
I highly recommend Alex’s _The Moral Case For Fossil Fuels_.
Original full-length blog post from 2020:
And a brief update from Giegengack on COP26: