Friday, March 21, 2008
Time to start adding a thicker blanket of greenhouse gases
This skeptical alliance has to be headed off. Cooling is not something to be skeptical about. The eons-long relationship between between solar activity and global temperature is not about to take a vacation. Cold IS coming, and the dangers are immense. There is no comparison at all to global warming. Alarmist fantasies about a global warming "tipping point" were scientific nonsense. Cooling feedbacks are another matter entirely. They DO reach a tipping point, where they go racing down until we are buried under a mile of ice.
Imagine the devastation of a giant asteroid smashing the earth. That's what an ice age is, but instead of happening once every several hundred million years, it happens like clockwork, and the next one is due any century now. This is the global disaster we need to be preparing to counter, and given that the current solar lull COULD be the one that ends our current interglacial, we damned well better get on with it.
It IS going to get cold
Last month I wrote a lengthy post on how the real and impending danger is global cooling, not global warming, and how every climate scientist in the world has known it for at least several years now. Very briefly, the geologic record proves that, for many millions of years, the primary driver of global temperature has been the intensity of the solar wind (thought to drive temperature indirectly, by sweeping away cloud-inducing cosmic radiation). 20th century warming is consistent with this geologic history. The solar wind was at "grand maximum" levels from 1940-2000.
(The IPCC omits this natural warming effect from its models. As a result, IPCC models misattribute solar warming to CO2. Take away the misattribution, and the warming effect of CO2 is tiny, as in theory it should be.)
From "grand maximum" levels of solar activity, there is nowhere go but down. The present extended lull between solar cycles 23 and 24 may mean that the inevitable fall off in solar activity has already begun, or it may just be an extended lull, with a strong solar cycle 24 still to ensue. What we know for certain is that solar activity WILL again cycle downward (probably sooner than later, with predicted minima in 2030 and 2200), and that when solar activity does fall off, it WILL cause global cooling.
Faced with this looming danger, what should we do? Should we try to mitigate the coming harsh conditions by trying to don a warmer jacket of greenhouse gases? Three primary considerations say "yes."
1. From our current warm-earth conditions, additional greenhouse gases have little capacity to cause additional warming, but substantial capacity to mitigate cooling.
The dominant greenhouse gas is water vapor, which does 90 or 95% the atmosphere's heat trapping work. In our present warm-earth conditions, the atmosphere is full of water vapor, which is already trapping most of the infrared radiation that is available for greenhouse gases to trap. From this starting point, additional greenhouse gases are mostly redundant. The heat that they would trap is already being trapped, so they have little marginal effect.
Not so in the cooling direction. As the earth cools, the atmosphere's water-vapor holding capacity steadily falls, making the other greenhouse gases less redundant.
If the sun "goes cold," human produced greenhouse gases have significant potential to raise the floor on cooling. We won't be able to stop a downward cycle from taking place, but we should be able to stop it from going quite as far down. It is at this bottom stage, where the earth gets as cold as it is going to get, and the water vapor carrying capacity of the atmosphere is at a minimum, where the the warming effect of human produced greenhouse gases will be strongest, many times stronger than it is today.
A little bit of human induced raising of the floor on cooling could be huge. Are we under a half-mile of ice that only covers Canada, or a mile of ice that goes down to Colorado?
Altogether, increased CO2 incurs little danger, because the marginal warming effect is small and getting smaller when the world is warm, but it does a lot to avoid danger when natural cycles move us in a cooling direction. An expected value calculation multiplies the value of each of these effects by its probability. Given that the probability of a cooling phase is high (making the probability of natural warming correspondingly low), we get a high positive value to CO2 on the cooling side, multiplied by a high probability, and a small warming effect on the warming side (which could itself be of positive value), multiplied by a low probability. The result is a high positive external value to human produced CO2.
Other factors also need to be weighed, but they have the same lopsided risk profile, where increased CO2 does a lot to avoid risk while doing little to incur risk:
2. Warming appears to be self-limiting. Cooling is not (at least not until we are buried under mountains of ice).
The more water vapor there is in the atmosphere, the more efficient the rain cycle, meaning that precipitation more completely removes moisture from the air. These efficient cloudbursts open up a column of dry air in the sky through which the heat produced by precipitation (opposite of the cold produced by evaporation) escapes into space. Roy Spencer calls this mechanism "nature's thermostat." The warmer the earth gets, the more efficient the rain cycle, the more heat gets vented through cloudbursts, making warming self-limiting.
Spencer has also found evidence that warming may thin the upper layer of heat trapping cirrus clouds, again tending to make warming self-limiting.
In the cooling direction, the situation is much more dangerous because feedback effects continue to propagate strongly. It might seem that cooling feedback effects should weaken because cooling leaves leaves less and less water vapor in the atmosphere, reducing the amount that can still be squeezed out. On the other hand, the less water vapor there is in the atmosphere, the more heat trapping work each molecule of water vapor will do. It becomes less redundant and hence more powerful.
This allows the cycle of cooling to remain strong, just the opposite of what happens in the warming direction, where the more water vapor there is, the weaker its marginal effect on temperature.
A second "vicious cycle" also acts more powerfully when the earth is cold than when it is warm. Cooling causes increased snow cover, which reflects away more sunlight than bare ground, cooling the earth still further, causing snow and ice to grow still further. In cold times, snow and ice spread down to lower latitudes where there is progressively more territory, receiving sunlight progressively more directly. Thus the colder the earth the stronger the marginal cooling effect, as sunlight starts to get bounced away from large swaths of the earth.
Contrast this to warm times, when the ice caps have already retreated to the poles. Here the marginal albedo effect of additional warming is relativelty small.
The upshot again is a lopsided risk profile, where a warmer jacket of greenhouse gases has little chance of creating run-away warming, but the cooling that it helps to mitigate has a lot of potential to run away and create a 100,000 year ice age, as has happened numerous times in the past.
This same advantageous risk profile also applies to temperature change itself:
3. Warming is benign. Cooling is brutal.
We could stand several more degrees of warming and it would be overwhelmingly positive for flora and fauna. We know this because the earth has been substantially warmer in the past (the "Holocene Optimum," from 5-9 thousand years ago) and the geologic record suggests that the biosphere flourished (hence the adjective "optimum").
Cooling, on the other hand, is a crusher. Even another "little ice age" will drastically diminish growing seasons and food production. With seven billion mouths to feed (compared to less than one billion during THE Little Ice Age) large scale famine becomes a possibility.
All considered, a thicker blanket of greenhouse gases is virtually all reward, with almost no risk
There is simply no doubt that solar activity is going to fall off from recent highs and sooner or later go into an extended down phase. It always has, and mankind is certainly not doing anything to affect the sun.
If we are lucky, solar activity will rebound and there will be some continued warming. The more the better, and if a thicker blanket of greenhouse gases helps a continuing solar high to create a little bit more warming on top of what it otherwise would, that is all to the good too. And this is the WORST that a thicker blanket of greenhouse gases can cause: it would make good times even better.
But the bad times are what we need to worry about. To deal with that looming certainty of global cooling, we need to start raising the floor on cooling as much as we can. This is urgent. Our capacity to affect global temperature is very limited. It will take years of massive production of CO2, Methane, Nitrous Oxide, etcetera, to puff up our greenhouse protection just a little bit. To help ourselves in any significant way, we better get on with it.
Not only should we continue full bore with our exploitation of fossil fuels, we should also be engineering the greenhouse byproducts of fossil energy generation to maximize heat trapping effect. Some wavelengths of infrared are not trapped by water vapor. By tailoring industrial byproducts to trap these un-trapped and under-trapped wavelengths, we can in-effect patch the holes in our greenhouse blanket. If we use our whole fossil fuel industry to target the right byproducts, we might be able to raise the floor on cooling substantially.
We need about a hundred years
We don't need a thicker blanket of greenhouse gases in the long run. In another hundred years (assuming Iran doesn't get nukes and send us all back to the stone age) we should be able to construct giant orbiting reflectors, or moon based reflectors, that can that tune climate by directing additional sunlight our way. We just have to avoid a cooling catastrophe for the next century or two.
Non-fossil energy sources are on the horizon. A few breakthroughs in photovoltaics and battery technology and the denizens of our sunnier climes won't even need the grid anymore. If national security were the only consideration, we should move to nuclear generation immediately. But for the next little while, the need to don a warmer jacket of greenhouse gases calls for continued reliance on fossil fuels.
We can quite aggressive in producing greenhouse gases while still being cautious by minding the atmospheric lifetimes of the greenhouse gases we employ.
CO2 has an atmospheric lifetime of 50-200 years. Rarer greenhouse gases (GHGs) have less redundancy, giving them a higher warming effect, or "global warming potential" (GWP). Per molecule, methane has about 20 times the GWP of CO2 and has a lifetime of about 12 years. Nitrous Oxide, with 310 times the warming potential of CO2, has a lifetime of about 120 years.
Then there are the exotic high-GWP GHGs, mostly produced by industrial activity, which can have thousands of times the warming potential of CO2, and much longer atmospheric lifetimes:
Click table for larger image. Shows 1996 IPCC data (presented in this EPA doc). More extensive 2001 IPCC table here. Infrared absorption ranges of different GHGs here.
The modest lifetimes of CO2 and nitrous oxide make them good for being cautious in our approach to donning a warmer jacket of greenhouse gases. To keep these gases at artificially high levels, we have to keep adding them to the atmosphere at a high rate, or they fall off pretty quickly.
The very short lifetime of methane would make it ideal for maintaining short term control, if there were a non-wasteful way to put a lot of it into the atmosphere. (Methane is the main component of natural gas. We could just dump it into the atmosphere, but that seems pretty extravagant.)
But just as the need to rely on greenhouse gases for warming is short term (a century or two), so too is the need to worry about possibly being too aggressive in donning a warmer blanket of greenhouse gases. Just as we will soon enough be able to reflect additional sunlight towards the earth, so too we will be able to reflect sunlight away, giving us complete control over global temperature. All of our climate concerns are strictly short term.
Opportunities to engineer GHGs
Consider Shell’s new technique for extracting fuels from oil shale. They drill a picket-fence like row holes around a square column of oil shale, then pump refrigerant through the holes to create a wall of frozen ground that keeps the surrounding groundwater protected. Then they drill down into the middle of the column and heat the shale to extract fuels without ever mining the rock.
Having all of that released energy to work with, refining engineers could produce a wide variety of byproducts, including GHGs engineered to capture a wide spectrum of infrared. The same could be done with Canadian tar sands, and African and Chinese coal. The question is how far we should go.
The science is not yet in place to figure out the effects of human produced GHGs. Scientists have been pretending to work on this, but all of their estimates are fraudulent, misattributing to GHGs the warming that was caused by the 20th century's hyper-active sun.
Once solar effects are properly accounted, the estimates of anthropogenic warming are going to shrivel up to something relatively small. Very likely, our little lever will not be able to offset with the sun's big lever in any significant way unless we start pumping out high GWP GHGs.
Sulfer hexafluoride (SF6) has about 20,000 times the warming effect per molecule of CO2, and has an atmospheric lifetime of about 3000 years. If an Ice age starts to descend, and these gases are necessary to stop it, we should start belching them out, which means we have start building the capacity to belch them out. Once we are under the ice, it is too late. Humanity will still survive, but in drastically reduced numbers.
The global warming morons have us headed in the wrong direction
Until now, the demonization of CO2 has been all talk and no action. Fossil fuel burning has been decreasing in the U.S. since 2006, but this is an economic reaction to high energy prices, not a result of anti-CO2 policy efforts. Unfortunately, that is now changing. What had been a boom in coal fired electricity generation has now turned into a bust, due to fears of regulatory restriction.
President Bush did good service by delaying this nonsense for eight years. His first major policy statement back in 2001 was to come out against the Kyoto accord, reversing the position of the Clinton administration, which with Vice President Gore as global warming czar had been to back Kyoto as strongly as possible, even in the face of overwhelming congressional opposition. Bush's executive-branch reversal eased worries about Kyoto eventually succeeding, which allowed fossil-based electrical generation to go forward.
No more. Now the Bush administration has succumbed to the global warming hype (over the same time period during which it has been scientifically debunked), so that domestic electricity producers now have to anticipate regulation.
The Canadian tar sands industry is confronting the same problem. They ought to be moving to full scale exploitation of this huge resource, but the Energy Independence and Security Act passed by Congress in 2007 could bar U.S. importing oil from tar sands on the grounds that the extraction process creates longer lived greenhouse effects than conventional sources of oil.
The 2007 act also calls for a 20% reduction in gasoline consumption in ten years, setting the legal basis for who knows what kinds of lawsuits. Eight years ago, lawmakers were not drinking the global-warming Kool-Aid. Now they are swilling it.
Overcoming the anti-capitalist naturalism of the eco-religionists
The warming alarmists are not actually concerned about climate at all. They are eco-religionists who believe that human economic activity is gobbling up the natural world. All they want is an excuse to curtail human activity, and since economic activity is currently powered by fossil fuels, the charge that fossil fuel burning is causing catastrophic warming serves nicely. That is why they are okay with the scientific absurdity of the theory of anthropogenic global warming. They don't care if it makes sense. The climatologists amongst them all KNOW that it does not make sense, and they have known it for years.
Their underlying anti-capitalism is now going to turn the eco-religionists into skeptics and anti-alarmists. "Don't jump on the anti-cooling bandwagon," they will say: "cooling is natural, driven by the fall-off in solar activity, and natural is good" (the other half of their vision of conflict between man and nature in which man is seen as bad).
But natural is not good. Natural is amoral, and the embrace of naturalism is nihilistic. We have a chance to evade epic catastrophe, and we can't let the nihilistic naturalism of the eco-religionists keep us from doing it.
Ordinary people will be glad to hear that industrial activity, and the greenhouse gases it produces, are the solution to climate danger, not the problem. Ramping up greenhouse gases is a win-win policy choice for mankind. "You need me to burn more fuel? Can do!"
But the environmental religionists are not on the side of mankind. In what they see as the contest between human prosperity and the natural world, they are on the side of the natural world. (Typical example here.) The prospect of human economic activity being the solution to climate danger is the eco-religionist's worst nightmare. They are going to do everything they can to obscure the real science, the real problem, and the real solution.
Unfortunately, these people dominate academia and the media, creating a tremendous obstacle to getting the truth out to the broader public that would gladly embrace it. The only thing that is bringing down their hoax of human caused global warming is the sun's current dip into at least a temporary lull. These folks are powerful, and there is no end to the dishonesty they will continue to spew. Let's just not take too long to overcome them, because we might not have a lot of time.
Hopefully the current downturn in solar activity is just a wobble and not the real thing. The only mitigation we have in place now is a little CO2. We are not ready for cold.
Supposedly conservative churches are drinking the left-wing Kool-Aid too
Southern Baptist leaders just signed a "Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change" promising to do more to combat global warming. Hey goofballs: the earth is cooling. Why would anyone believe Al Gore's bought and paid for IPCC?
AP's report on the declaration quotes one student leader who embraces warming alarmism because it appeals to his religious sensibilities. A theology professor told him that destroying God's creation is like "tearing a page out of the Bible." "That struck me, that broke me," the student said, and so he went on to become a warming alarmist.
Destroying God's creation would be a lot worse than tearing a page out of the Bible, but what does that have to do with accepting left-wing propaganda as Gospel? If there is a God, his purpose in bestowing mankind with faculties of reason is so that we can us use them, yet for the Southern Baptists, it is apparently enough to embrace the presumptionthat one is helping the environment, without regard to whether one is actually helping or hurting.
Climate science is a revealing test for religion, but not in the way that the Southern Baptists imagine. At war in conservative Christianity are two incompatible ideas, only one of which can be right. One is the naturalist idea that we should leave God's creation as it is: that natural is right. The other is the statement of Genesis, that God has given mankind dominion over land and beast, to husband, to use, and to preserve as we see best.
Genesis 1:28: …replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
The naturalist tendency is evident in the Vatican's recent naming of "pollution" and "genetic engineering" as mortal sins (for which you go to Hell). What nonsense.
Every beneficial thing creates harmful byproducts, i.e. pollution. LIFE creates pollution, as even men in robes must be aware. As for genetic engineering, it has been going on since the first farmers started developing the first crops. Naturalism is a fraud, but one that our churches are for some reason highly susceptible to.
On the issue of global climate, it is crucial that they get back to their Bibles and recognize the concept of dominion as a rejection of naturalism. Global cooling is as natural as can be, but if we fail to mitigate it then we fail in our husbandry of the earth. Instead of protecting ourselves and our eco-system from this natural calamity, we would be letting the Garden of Eden be destroyed by it.
The Biblical grant of dominion is a call to impose our will on nature, to make use of plant, animal and geologic resources in the most productive way. That includes preservation of nature but it but is not limited to it. We are to JUDGE when nature should be left to its "natural" course and when intervention is called for.
Conservative churches are supposed to understand this grant of dominion over nature. But the Southern Baptists clearly do not get it, succumbing instead to the idea that human impact on climate must be disastrous, just based on the gooiest religious feeling, without regard for whether they even know what they are talking about. (Don't confuse the Bible's grant of dominion over nature with what is called "dominion theology," which sees the Bible's grant of dominion as extending not just over nature, but over society. That is, they see it in political terms, as a call to impose Biblical law across the land.)
Climate change ought to be a defining issue for conservative Christianity, a point where Christians step up and distinguish their religion of husbandry and dominion from the naturalist religion of the humanity-hating environmentalists. "Natural" is not a criterion of good or right. Human comprehension of value is the measure, the only measure, for how to abide by the law of love and act for most value. We have the capacity to judge what is best, not perfectly of course, but with understanding that can continually improve.
Naturalism, in contrast is blind. In nature, planets are smashed by asteroids, and by ice ages. Our job is to create and preserve value, as best we can see how. That means taking control (exercising dominion) over nature. Any Christian who wants to save the planet should see the nihilistic naturalism of the anti-capitalist environmentalists for the deadly failure it is.
My survey of real vs. phony climate science here.
For a proper survey of the scientific evidence, see Fred Singer’s book Unstoppable Global Warming, every 1500 years, and Henrik Svensmark’s book The Chilling Stars.
To see the environmentalist anti-population ideology writ simple, check out this human hating cartoon, The stork is a bird of war:
My essay on people being the solution, not the problem, here. The stork video states the environmentalist position accurately when it demonizes white suburban babies, tended by SUVs:
It isn't population per se that environmentalists see as the problem, but population weighted by income (which the environmentalists see as a marker for resource consumption). In his 1994 speech "Too many rich people," anti-population zealot Paul Ehrlich condemned population according to energy consumption. By focusing on rich people as the problem, the left is able to square its left-wing brand of anti-capitalist environmentalism with the left's broader anti-white racism.
The truth is that it is not just people in general who are the solution, but in particular "rich people": those who have the resources to do something with their lives. It is educated people who create the technological advance that allows all of us to get more out of scarce resources. In effect, as Julian Simon put it, they expand rather than use up the world's resources.
Thus the population that is most beneficial for the environment is the very population that is most demonized by the environmental movement. Now we can add that "rich people" (i.e. anyone productive enough not to be poor) also benefit the world by putting relatively large amounts of GHG into the atmosphere. How I envy the truly rich, with their big eco-friendly carbon footprints, protecting the planet from global cooling. They really do have it all.
But if you look else where in the Bible, it commands us to Till and to Tend.... a very different outlook.
There's a new book coming out called God in the Wilderness by Rabbi Jamie Korngold that discusses this issue.