On Saturday, while doing something important, I heard an ABC news broadcast go on and on about CO2 having passed 400 parts per million. I kept yelling out as each of a series of loaded statements came out, until my wife asked was I having a seizure. ‘Scientists say…’ When will the ABC learn to prefix that noun with the adjective ‘some’ — or tell us which scientists these ones are? Such announcements come with what seem like the full force of the scientific workforce of the world. But in fact they are the result of one or two activists and an ABC mindset that is attuned to that kind of environmental doomsaying. I can’t extract that ABC news broadcast from the dustbin of history, but Bloomberg’s take on it was just as bad, so here’s my commentary on a summary of that.
First, the basis for the story: carbon dioxide levels as measured at the Mauna Loa monitoring station in Hawaii have passed 400 parts per million. Bob Ward, a well-known propagandist for the evils of ‘climate change’ told Bloomberg that we humans had no evolutionary experience of such a climate. The last time CO2 levels were so high was 3 million years ago. At that time, he told Bloomberg, ‘temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial times, the polar ice caps were much smaller, and sea levels were about 20 meters (66 feet) higher than today’. There you go — don’t you see how important CO2 is?
Well, hang on. None of those prehistoric conditions obtains today, so doesn’t that suggest that carbon dioxide levels are not the driver of climate? Such a thought apparently didn’t occur either to Bloomberg or the ABC. No matter, because for the orthodox, all this is a new sign that doom is on its way, and that ‘carbon emissions’ (how I hate this sloppy language) ‘must be reined in before they cause irreversible changes to weather, sea levels and Arctic ice cover’. But isn’t it the case that warming has stalled over the last 15 or so years? Well not really, say the orthodox, but even if it looks like it [and it does], there doesn’t have to be a linear relationship between the rise in carbon dioxide accumulations and temperature. You see, when it is warming that is because of CO2, but when it’s not obviously warming, warming is still going on but is hidden by something else — natural variability, or Chinese aerosols, or something else. It’s good to be so sure.
‘The United Nations [actually, the IPCC] in 2007 said stabilizing the gas at 400 ppm to 440 ppm may lead to a temperature gain of as much as 2.8 degrees Celsius… That’s at odds with the goal set out by climate treaty negotiators from more than 190 nations, who have agreed to shoot for limiting the temperature increase to 2 degrees. The global average has already risen by about 0.8 of a degree since pre-industrial times.’
Just think about it. ‘Pre-industrial times’ means before the Industrial Revolution, for which 1780 is a useful mark, and we have gained 0.8 degree Celsius since then (all this is based on estimates and sparse thermometer readings). In that time food production and population have expanded enormously. The proposed temperature gain of 2.8 degrees Celsius assumes a large positive feedback from a doubling of CO2, but there is a wide range of estimates for such a consequence. And the ‘agreement’ to aim for a maximum of 2 degrees was based on nothing more than a the need for a simple number that looked OK. It has no scientific basis that I can find.
Bloomberg then worries away at the failure of our meeting the 2 degrees C target, and how such an increase could lead to a sea-level rise of 1.7 metres. ‘That would threaten coastal cities from New York to London and Bangkok’. But Bloomberg didn’t stop to think that no such increase has occurred or occurred in the recent past. Even at a 3mm a year increase, which may be the current trend, by 2100 the sea level may be around 30cm higher than it is today, which gives cities a long-term opportunity to do something about such a change.
The article tries to have it both ways. One paragraph tells us that carbon dioxide can stay in the atmosphere for years, and that ‘levels now may cause warming for decades’. But in another paragraph we learn that ‘Unless swift action is taken to reduce CO2 emissions, the planet will warm by more than 2 degrees.’
The Bloomberg piece nods briefly twice to more sceptical positions, which is two more than appeared on the ABC. But the piece finishes with the kind of statement that has become part and parcel of the AGW scare, and this one from a science lobby group: ‘This needs to be a wake-up call. Reaching 400 parts per million represents a dire experiment with the climate system. As long as humans have walked the Earth, we’ve never seen carbon dioxide levels this high.’
I ought to be used to this kind of scaremongering, but I’m not. I have to say to myself that (i) bad news is the basis of nearly all news reports, and (ii) if the current pause in warming continues the mindset in the media will change, and (iii) governments have already backed off anyway. I just have to put up with it. I saw somewhere that Labor was being urged to fight the coming election on the issue of climate change, and thought that it couldn’t do much worse if it did. The ABC asked Minister Combet was asked for his opinion on the new CO2 level, and he answered funereally that it was sign that the Government was right, or something like that. Alas, whatever he says seems to come out in a mournful way. You wouldn’t pick him to advertise a new product.