As global-warming alarmists try to recover from “Climategate,” they have returned to the first principles of selling their product to the public. Among the most important of these, as any advertising professional can tell you, is delivering simple message. And so, following the script, alarmists world-wide spent a great deal of time last week declaring that not only is climate science settled, but the ways in which climate forces affect the entire planet is also beyond dispute.
In an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell last week, the high-priest of the First Church of climate change, Al Gore, said:
“A hundred and fifty years ago this year was the discovery that CO-2 traps heat. That is a — a principle in physics. It’s not a question of debate. It’s like gravity; it exists.”
One wonders why Mitchell didn’t ask the obvious follow-up questions: If the science is indeed that cut and dried, why are scientists across the globe spending billions of dollars to confirm something so blindingly obvious? Indeed, why did delegates at Copenhagen commit to spending billions more to explore a question that, according to Gore, does not merit further investigation?
On December 8, New York Times columnist Thomas Freidman echoed the alarmists’ party line, writing:
“This is not complicated. We know that our planet is enveloped in a blanket of greenhouse gases that keep the Earth at a comfortable temperature. As we pump more carbon-dioxide and other greenhouse gases into that blanket from cars, buildings, agriculture, forests and industry, more heat gets trapped.”
Both statements belie a shocking ignorance of the science involved. Even the leading degreed cheerleaders in the alarmist community, like NASA’s Gavin Schmidt or Penn State’s Michael Mann, would hurry to distance themselves from these sorts of blanket declarations. It’s one thing to simplify scientific concepts. It’s quite another to bastardize them.
Consider Al Gore. There is one ironic truth in Gore’s statement: there is a striking similarity between the theory of gravity and the science of climate change. Scientists universally acknowledge that a force known as gravity exists, but, though theories abound, none can say how it works. In the same vein, it is undeniable that the earth’s climate fluctuates over time, but anyone who tells you that they understand all of the complex mechanisms that influence those changes displays the sort of hubris that would have either struck a chord with ancient Greek playwrights.
The most important scientific law at issue, when it comes to climate change, is Beer’s Law. Put in technical terms, Beer’s Law, which Gore by all accounts has not yet moved to invalidate, says that the relationship between the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the global warming effect of carbon dioxide is logarithmic, not linear. Put in more friendly terms, Beer’s Law is the law of diminishing climatic returns: The more carbon dioxide one puts into the atmosphere, the less effect it has on the climate.
Water vapor is, by far, our most important global warming gas. Its global warming potential is over forty times that of carbon dioxide and there is over fifty times more water vapor in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. All told, the net warming effect of water vapor exceeds that of carbon dioxide by a factor of more than two thousand.
The alarmists’ argument, such as it is, declares that increased concentrations of carbon dioxide will result in the evaporation of more water vapor, just enough – in theory – to “tip the balance” and lead to an uncontrollable increase in planetary temperatures. This is a more subtle, and much more difficult to demonstrate, argument than that proposed by alarmists like Gore and Friedman.
Skeptical scientists counter that the tiny amount of increased water evaporation associated with increasing carbon dioxide concentrations might just as well result in increase cloud formation, which everyone acknowledges would have a cooling effect, along with increased evaporative cooling. The alarmists spend an untold amount of time and an unimaginable amount of dollars attempting to prove that those mechanisms are not meaningful. It’s the twenty first century equivalent of determining exactly how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, with about as much practical relevance and at much more a cost to society.
If the public truly understood the subtle nuances of climate change science, along with the way that the alarmists have twisted science in order to further their own agenda and further their grant-funding, it’s hard to imagine that any significant portion of public opinion would express a preference for further climate change legislation or regulation.
The only hope, especially in the aftermath of Climategate, for true believers like Gore and Friedman, is to convince the public that there is nothing remarkable or nuanced or complicated about climate science.
The truth of the matter is quite the opposite. Climate science is enormously complicated. The more we learn about it, the less human activity seems to affect the climate. That may be an inconvenient truth, but based on all of the data we have gathered after spending untold billions of dollars that would appear to be the honest truth – even if it doesn’t support Al Gore’s doom-saying prophecies.
Rich Trzupek is a chemist and Principal Consultant at Mostardi Platt Environmental, an environmental consulting firm based in Oak Brook, Illinois. He specializes in air quality issues and is the author of McGraw-Hill’s Air Quality Permitting and Compliance Manual. Rich is a confirmed skeptic with regard to the theory that human activity has caused global warming. He is also a regular contributor at threedonia.com.