In this article, I question whether what is called “climate change” is consistent with science and social science. The effectiveness of mathematical and computer models has been questioned in a number of fields, including physics and economics. The two issues are (I) do we even have a clear problem definition, and (II) are the methods consistent with the analyses done in other fields.
I. Problem Definition
First we must define the problem. Then we should include relevant facts, but exclude unrelated issues, since they might cause confusion. Finally we need to produce a workable solution, while acknowledging any disadvantages it may entail.
Accordingly, the issues are whether carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, by trapping heat in the atmosphere, are substantively increasing temperatures above the natural rate, what the magnitude of the effect is, is it bad, and are the proposed solutions viable.
The issue is not whether CO2 itself is increasing or the temperature is increasing. There must be a cause and effect relationship between CO2 and temperature, it must be problematic and we must have a viable solution. If the relationship is weak, then the effort to change the energy system, the foundation of modern life and progress for developing nations, would not only be ineffectual—it would be a severe blow to human progress.
The solution that alarmists offer to this problem is alternative energy: principally wind and solar power. However, because both depend on the local weather, that is a steady wind and direct sunlight, they are not viable economically, as many governments have learned, and they will indefinitely require high subsidies in order to compete with other energy sources.
Hundreds of wind turbines are required to provide the power of a standard power plant. They must be spaced widely apart, to prevent the air flow of one from interfering with that of the next, meaning that wind farms must consume hundreds of times the land that standard plants require. Furthermore, the power must be transported from wind farms to cities, because many urban areas are not in regions where the wind conditions are adequate. Because the wind is highly variable, and the energy can’t be stored, turbines must be backed up by traditional power sources anyway.
Solar plants work best in warm climates with direct sunlight. Interestingly, environmentalists themselves have opposed these installations due to environmental damage and the enormous land and water requirements for the minimum power produced.
However, there is a two part energy solution, which reduces the significance of the CO2 issue.
Natural gas creates half the greenhouse gas emissions as coal. Most power is generated by heating water, which produces the steam necessary to provide the energy for the devices (“turbines”), which generate electricity. The source of the heat can be natural gas, nuclear fission, or coal, and society should accelerate the transition from coal, because as long as a substantial amount of power comes from coal, electric cars will not reduce emissions, but simply change the source. Trucks and cars can run on natural gas, as well.
Nuclear power, governed by Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2, is more than a million times more concentrated than fossil fuels in producing energy. The fears of nuclear power seem excessive. There have been no deaths from nuclear power in the United States, but many deaths from coal. The Chernobyl reactor (in Ukraine) had a truly wretched design and the Fukushima trouble (in Japan) was mainly caused by a tsunami destroying the backup generators, which were situated too low.
Recognizing that the public is skeptical of nuclear power, I suggest that society look at small modular reactors (SMRs), which do not emit greenhouse gases. These SMRs can vary in size from that of a refrigerator to a small building, and can provide power for a medium sized town. They are being designed rigorously for safety, and the amount of nuclear material is small, due to the size. The U.K. has been very aggressive in trying to encourage their readiness for the market in the near future. They can be manufactured in large numbers, with usage scaled up as needed, using multiple installations.
Such an effort would yield much higher dividends than those proposed by alarmists, which they themselves acknowledge would only affect the temperature a small fraction of 1 degree Celsius by the end of this century. After all, estimates of the cost and projected cost of global warming efforts easily approach hundreds of billions of dollars a year.
II. The Methods
Generally the methods used in proving a theory are examining evidence and statistical/modeling techniques.
Greenhouse gases are comprised of water vapor, about 95 percent, and CO2, about 3.6 percent. The human contribution to CO2 is about 3.4 percent of that, yielding 0.12 percent as the human contribution to greenhouse gases, or about one-eighth of 1 percent. Therefore, to conclude that it materially matters, one must assume some kind of amplifying factor—for which there is no evidence.
Levels of CO2 and temperature have been much higher in the past. It is important to note that the earth is not on a human time scale—with a life span of 4.6 billion years, one century for the earth is about a minute in its life; thus time frames of many thousands of years are not long in geological terms. The Medieval warm period, about a thousand years ago, would be 10 minutes on a human scale. There was also a Roman warming period, about 2,200 years ago. During the Little Ice Age, from about 1350 to 1850, the climate was cooler, and much of the warmer temperatures that we now experience started before the massive industrialization of the 20th century, and can be explained as the recovery from the Little Ice Age.
I should note that the expression “highest temperature on record” may refer to temperature differences of a few hundredths of a degree, well below the statistical margin of error, and is therefore meaningless. Furthermore, thermometers only came into general use in the 19th century, the equivalent of about a minute and a half ago.
There were many times higher levels of CO2 when life exploded about 500 million years ago, and since, as well. Temperatures were much higher millions of years ago. CO2 levels have gone up a bit recently (without causing a temperature increase). This has greatly facilitated plant growth, to the benefit of humankind, but we would benefit if they were still higher.
That CO2 helps the earth to retain heat is not in dispute. But the effect of increases tends to level off, just like a room with closed curtains can only be darkened so much by adding more curtains.
Arctic ice is (cyclically) growing back, the Antarctic—which has about 90 percent of the earth’s ice—is also growing and sea levels have been rising at a modest 8 inches per century.
Hurricanes have not gotten worse in the last half century, though politicians have encouraged people to move to high risk areas where there aren’t adequate protective walls. Hurricane Katrina had weakened from a category 5 to a standard category 3 when it hit New Orleans, and the resulting disaster occurred because of bad levee construction, not climate change.
Statistical methods have been developed to answer one question: Does the theory conform to the facts? The answer is a resounding “No.”
The claimed statistical relationship between CO2 and temperature is wrong. Over the long term (centuries), CO2 levels have lagged (not preceded) temperatures increases. During the first part of the 20th century, before the widespread use of fossil fuels, the earth nevertheless warmed. It cooled from 1940 to 1975, when fossil fuel use expanded significantly. Toward the end of the century, the earth again warmed. Since 1998, the temperature of the earth has remained constant. We know this because satellites (and other reliable methods) provide the most accurate and unbiased means of measuring temperature.
In contrast, other methods for measuring temperature, such as placing thermometers at land stations, have become problematic due to their increasing proximity to heat-producing machines and hot surfaces (such as black pavement). They don’t cover the oceans accurately—70 percent of the earth—as well as remote land areas such as deserts. Attempts to redo these historical numbers will inevitably involve rewriting history based on formulas, since one cannot go back in time. For that reason, such attempts must be rejected.
In any other field, the hypothesis of dangerous climate change would be subjected to greater scrutiny or rejected altogether. That is almost certainly why the term “climate change” has replaced “global warming,” given that the assertion that the climate changes is about as useful as saying the sun is hot.
Arthur Wiegenfeld is an independent investor in New York City. He has training in economics, finance, physics, and computer simulation. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.