We Are Finally Seeing Healthy Perspectives on CO2 in the Media

The media loves lurid debates.  Which in the climate debate has meant that to the extent skeptics even get mentioned or quoted in media articles, it is often in silly, non-scientific sound bites.  Which is why I liked this editorial in the Financial Post, which is a good presentation of the typical science-based skeptic position – certainly it is close to the one I outlined in this video.  An excerpt:

Let’s be perfectly clear. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and other things being equal, the more carbon dioxide in the air, the warmer the planet. Every bit of carbon dioxide that we emit warms the planet. But the issue is not whether carbon dioxide warms the planet, but how much.

Most scientists, on both sides, also agree on how much a given increase in the level of carbon dioxide raises the planet’s temperature, if just the extra carbon dioxide is considered. These calculations come from laboratory experiments; the basic physics have been well known for a century.

The disagreement comes about what happens next.

The planet reacts to that extra carbon dioxide, which changes everything. Most critically, the extra warmth causes more water to evaporate from the oceans. But does the water hang around and increase the height of moist air in the atmosphere, or does it simply create more clouds and rain? Back in 1980, when the carbon dioxide theory started, no one knew. The alarmists guessed that it would increase the height of moist air around the planet, which would warm the planet even further, because the moist air is also a greenhouse gas.

This is the core idea of every official climate model: For each bit of warming due to carbon dioxide, they claim it ends up causing three bits of warming due to the extra moist air. The climate models amplify the carbon dioxide warming by a factor of three — so two-thirds of their projected warming is due to extra moist air (and other factors); only one-third is due to extra carbon dioxide.

That’s the core of the issue. All the disagreements and misunderstandings spring from this. The alarmist case is based on this guess about moisture in the atmosphere, and there is simply no evidence for the amplification that is at the core of their alarmism.

That is just amazingly close to what I wrote in a Forbes column a few months back:

It is important to begin by emphasizing that few skeptics doubt or deny that carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas or that it and other greenhouse gasses (water vapor being the most important) help to warm the surface of the Earth. Further, few skeptics deny that man is probably contributing to higher CO2 levels through his burning of fossil fuels, though remember we are talking about a maximum total change in atmospheric CO2 concentration due to man of about 0.01% over the last 100 years.

What skeptics deny is the catastrophe, the notion that man’s incremental contributions to CO2 levels will create catastrophic warming and wildly adverse climate changes. To understand the skeptic’s position requires understanding something about the alarmists’ case that is seldom discussed in the press: the theory of catastrophic man-made global warming is actually comprised of two separate, linked theories, of which only the first is frequently discussed in the media.

The first theory is that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 levels (approximately what we might see under the more extreme emission assumptions for the next century) will lead to about a degree Celsius of warming. Though some quibble over the number – it might be a half degree, it might be a degree and a half – most skeptics, alarmists and even the UN’s IPCC are roughly in agreement on this fact.

But one degree due to the all the CO2 emissions we might see over the next century is hardly a catastrophe. The catastrophe, then, comes from the second theory, that the climate is dominated by positive feedbacks (basically acceleration factors) that multiply the warming from CO2 many fold. Thus one degree of warming from the greenhouse gas effect of CO2 might be multiplied to five or eight or even more degrees.

This second theory is the source of most of the predicted warming – not greenhouse gas theory per se but the notion that the Earth’s climate (unlike nearly every other natural system) is dominated by positive feedbacks. This is the main proposition that skeptics doubt, and it is by far the weakest part of the alarmist case. One can argue whether the one degree of warming from CO2 is “settled science” (I think that is a crazy term to apply to any science this young), but the three, five, eight degrees from feedback are not at all settled. In fact, they are not even very well supported.

  • Robert Dammers

    Warren,

    I agree, this is encouraging (does monitoring your RSS feed and buying BMOC for $1 put us on first name terms? Probably not. I apologise). There are a couple of things that moderate my enthusiasm:

    1) The Financial Post was prepared ground – they published the excellent “Deniers” series (http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fpcomment/pages/the-deniers.aspx) which was one of the first honest presentations of a sceptical position on AGW.

    2) This is an invited or submitted comment piece, not a staff editorial.

    3) David Evans is an established “heretic” – he’s been referred to (and I think comments on) Jo Nova’s site.

    Still, it is greatly encouraging that the FP has not been dissuaded from covering the subject, and in a more respectable way (“The Deniers” as a title, however ironic, left an impression that we were kooks). What is more, Evans emphasizes the critical point that feedback is almost certainly negative (which is what the fossil record strongly implies – and they compare *us* with creationists!).

    And thanks, as ever for sharing your thoughts on this and the Coyote blog.

  • Mick Langan

    3) David Evans is an established “heretic” – he’s been referred to (and I think comments on) Jo Nova’s site.
    I think he is Nova’s husband, and also the major author of “The Climate Skeptic’s Handbook”.

  • Sean

    I think it’s interesting that it’s the financial times that’s running this story. Emission trading schemes turn financial companies into tax collectors so there is a profound interest for these firms to support such schemes and governments like to hide behind the veil of the ETS schemes to raise new funds. ( The Australian prime minister probably wishes she had not proposed a direct tax on carbon recently.) Carbon trading has also faded as an opportunity for the financiers without US participation and guidance from Japan that it won’t support the follow-on to Kyoto with the present structure. Perhaps articles such as this in financial publications are a way for the “smartest people in the room” to transfer responsibility for the loss of the carbon market.

  • Robert Dammers
  • Robert Dammers

    (Sorry – my punctuation got interpreted as HTML)

  • Greg

    “We Are Finally Seeing Healthy Perspectives on CO2 in the Media”

    And it will probably be six months before we see another one.

  • Mervyn Sullivan

    “We Are Finally Seeing Healthy Perspectives on CO2 in the Media.”

    I totally disagree! The media in, my opinion, is still very much heavily biased towards the ‘consensus’ point of view and prefers to avoid coverage of important scientific news and real-world data that is contradicting the IPCC’s mantra.

    For example, consider the work of Co2 experts, Dr Craig Idso and Dr Sherwood Idso. In February 2011 they published a 168 page paper titled: “Carbon Dioxide and Earth’s Future: Pursuing the Prudent Path” in which ten of the more ominous model-based predictions of what will occur in response to continued business-as-usual anthropogenic CO2 emissions are compared against real-world observations.

    The impressive volume of peer reviewed scientific literature cited by the authors demolish the model-based predictions as baseless… without foundation. They demonstrate that the model-based predictions are simply wrong.

    Read the paper at the following link:

    http://www.co2science.org/education/reports/prudentpath/prudentpath.php

    Now, has the media given any coverage to this paper? No. In fact, the media alarmists would rather this paper be locked away in a vault marked “Never to be opened”. Why? Because it exposes the IPCC mantra as being wrong. The paper makes a mockery of the demonization of Co2.

    But contrast this to the recent Queensland floods… the media was immediately onto alarmists like Dr David Karoly who immediately linked the floods to catastrophic man-made global warming and promoted the need to reduce Co2 emissions! Yet the floods were officially attributed to the La Nina effect.

    Simply amazing!!!!!!!!! Sorry to say this, but Co2 is still demonized by the politicians, scientific institutions, climate agencies, universities, scientists… and the media.

  • benfromMO

    Very well written. I think I will also disagree that the media as in a general term is taking a realistic view. All we hear about when it comes to cap and trade via the EPA is talk of how not doing it will kill X people. And of course its rarely stated in the media that CO2 is pollution, but this is how the EPA MUST view CO2 in order to regulate it.

    That is the problem…the media is not putting the entire story out there for the public to make their own judgement calls. No sane person would call CO2 pollution, but on the other hand sceptics are often called deniers without any substance when in fact most sceptics agree that CO2 is a greenhouse gas…and that the question we need to answer before implenting huge expensive solutions such as cap and trade is how much CO2 actually warms our planet. (I am talking about the feedbacks as you also point out which are unknown.)

    They could be negative, or they could also be hugely positive. We just do not know yet. There is just too much uncertainty in this to make huge leaps as far as policies go.

  • NormD

    You sound a little like a Republican trying to find common ground with a liberal. Its like you agree that government should stimulate the economy you just differ by how much. Its not like you.

    Are you 100% sure that CO2 is the greenhouse gas that climate scientists purport it to be? I was working through some eras of there earth with my son and found the following:

    Cambrian: CO2 ppm 6000, Ave temp: 21
    Devonian: CO2 ppm 2200, Ave temp: 20
    Permian: CO2 ppm 900, Ave temp: 16
    Triassic: CO2 ppm 1750, Ave temp: 17
    Paleogene: CO2 ppm 500, Ave temp: 18

    In other words, CO2 has varied all over the place but temps have remained relatively stable. How can this be?

    Lets extrapolate all the way to the beginning when there was no O2 only CO2 (plus N2, of course)- why didn’t the Earth become a runaway furnace?

    Also, if you buy the simplistic theory that each additional CO2 molecule absorbs some of the photons that would be emitted into space, then shouldn’t heating should be completely uniform (climate models assume CO2 is well mixed). Morning, night, winter, summer, all should heat up a little. But warming isn’t uniform. Some thermometers are remarkably stable over time. How can this be?

    If CO2 is the prime driver of Earth’s temperature, then what caused the MWP? Little Ice Age?

    I am highly suspicious that we don’t good models of how the Earth’s climate works. If you fed 6000 ppm of CO2 into today’s climate models, you would likely get the surface of Venus, not the Cambrian.

    Did you see Willis Eschenbach article (http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/12/19/model-charged-with-excessive-use-of-forcing/) where he showed that the output of climate models linearly tracks the forcings fed into them.

    If it turns out that the role of CO2 has been overstated you might appear somewhat foolish with all your “few skeptics doubt or deny that carbon dioxide…”.

  • netdr

    Surprisingly the amount of water vapor in the air seems to have gone down since 1950 when it was predicted to go up by the alarmists.

    http://c3headlines.typepad.com/.a/6a010536b58035970c0147e2fc6895970b-pi

    http://climate4you.com/ [Greenhouse Gasses]

    Since the guesses about water vapor appear to be wrong how can the feedback be right.

    Less water vapor causes more warming ?

  • Jordan

    Interesting article

    http://www.informath.org/media/a41.htm

    How Scientific Is Climate Science?
    What is arguably the most important reason to doubt global warming can be explained in plain English.

  • hunter

    The media is very good at letting down hopes for journalists as a whole to evolve a rational approach to reporting on climate issues. I hope you are correct.
    Do you still have a link showing, if I recall, you and your son showing the UHI effect? I think it would be interesting to contrast it with Muller’s work with BEST where he seemingly commits data torturing until he gets the desired results. If you still have it available, could you please re-post it?
    I believe it would be of interest to a lot of people.

  • IanB

    Who is David Evans’ the author of ‘Climate models go cold’ written in the Financial Post that you refer to here?

  • Mark

    @NormD

    CO2 has more effect in very dry air because water and CO2 absorb a remarkably similar bandwidth. Basically on most of the globe (even in tropical deserts *) there is so much H2O in the air doing the absorbing anyway that CO2 does not make a difference.

    It is in the northern areas, especially in winter, when the air is especially dry that CO2 takes on most of its effect. This is why the effect is mostly on northern climates in Winter. All the summer heat wave in Dallas stuff attributed to AGW is just total nonsense.

    *Note when measuring humidity it is the amount of water vapor in the air divided by the amount the air can hold when saturated. Warm air can contain more water without it precipitating, so a 20% humidity in -40 temps has much much less water than 20% humidity in 110 degree temps. I am sure you knew this, but just to make sure.

  • Michael

    I think you can prove that CO2 climate feedback is almost neutral. Major volcanic eruption while trivial overall CO2 inputs (even Kroatoa) produce a high rate CO2 (faster than than other source). If you have positive feedback then the short term temperature response of Kroatoa would have been significant but it wasn’t so no positive feedback. If there was negative feedback then we wouldn’t have the current fairly described temperature changes.

  • missing is the NORMAL dielectric, things in constant change..would not more co2 increase plant growth?
    and would that not reduce the temps..shade, and increase O? Just simple questions…I’m not horrified over glaciers melting, it is MORE fresh water! (and more floods, and such..BUT it’s just TEMPORARY!)
    Is now the ‘complaint” that too much fresh water AND more O is a “problem” on this planet?

    Or is it a scheme to blame humans…and promote rock worship and such…

    (i’m sorry i was at the 1st earth day sponsored by standard oil(bp) in Ann Arbor MI,THEIR endorsements of solar, wind, and control of it’s productions, made me question the entire “eeco” movement from day one.)
    of course they(royal oil companies) and their ecos be out of biz IF fusion gets funding, thas why they are opposed to all dense forms of energy. right-wingers:”it’s to big” ecos small is beautiful”

    transfer to the “political” side and it is clear some nations want the U.S. Republic broken up as it is “too large”, i let you seek history on which ones have (and continue to) attack the U.S. as too big. And the “noose” outlets they use.

  • MikeN

    I disagree that this is the weakest of the alarmist arguments. The actual policies being proposed are an even weaker argument. The developing world is the majority of emissions, yet the argument is still for an 80% cut among EU and Europe, with the hope that the rest of the world will follow suit.

  • Charles Higley

    It always amazes me that, when discussing the idea that CO2 warming might increase water vapor in the atmosphere, they always neglect to mention the convectional cooling caused by the circulation upwards of the lighter moist air. This global heat engine, taught in the 50s as the water cycle, is not news and acts as a HUGE negative feedback mechanism. Why is this not brought into the discussion?

    THe existence of the water cycle, as our atmosphere is NOT a greenhouse, kills the idea that CO2 causes warming. It is more likely to ramp up cooling as the heat engine ramps up and transfers more than the usual 85% of the energy to altitude where condensation releases the energy and cool rain returns to Earth. It is the energy transferred to altitude by this system that comprises the missing heat that Trenberth is constantly grousing about not being able to find.

    Recent findings by Zagoni and Miskolczi indicate that absolut water vapor decreases with increased CO2 such that the two exert a fairly constant effect or even a slight cooling as CO2 is replacing the superior heat-trapping water vapor.

    A second study just recently established that Co2 interferes with the ability of water vapor to absorb heat and vice versa, again leading to a decreased, not increased effect.

    Furthermore, it has also been shown that CO2 emits radiation (which is not heat, by the way) almost as soon as it is absorbed and can emit at a frequency which it cannot reabsorb. This seriously holes the contention that CO2 can trap radiation by repeated absorptions the way the IPCC claims. It is also only when collisions occur between CO2 and another molecule while it is energized that the energy could become heat. This occurs in a very small portion of collisions, indicating poor efficiency in generating heat. The IPCC vastly inflates this rate and then pretends that water vapor then magnifies this effect.

    So, all of the thermodynamics says that not only can a trace gas not drive the climate, but even with the help of water vapor, a key component of the convectional cooling heat engine of the water cycle, it fails.

  • Carolluk996

    climate change is one religion jesus wont be saving

    well done nic ,your a brave man and looks like you have been proved right yet agian .

    any one with half a brain could see this was a global government agenda

    fuck the marxist nwo

  • Hollisntq226

    I made a reusable one once. I drilled a small hole in the side on the CO2 tank, soldered a bike valve in the hole and cut a hole in the plastic cover of my hand gun for the valve to stick out. Works great. Just remember to remove the valve inners ( stem) from the valve before you solder. It will melt lol.Keep a small hand held bike pump in ya pocket and you have a limitless air supply.

  • I’m not a climate scientist either. Have you got a citation for “The climate models amplify the carbon dioxide warming by a factor of three ” please. Yes , water vapour is a more potent greenhouse gas but the residence time for CO2 is far longer that’s the problem as I understand it.