Can A Struggling America Afford Costly Climate Hysteria?

Spiraling inflation and COVID’s economic dislocations threaten America’s wobbly economy. Yet the Biden Administration, to fight “climate change,” has imposed significant new regulatory costs, committed itself to massive spending increases, and seeks even more spending and new taxes, which together could bring us to an economic tipping point.

But rather than acknowledge the irreparable damage that onerous climate policies will certainly wreak, the administration forecasts untold devastation if the country does not buy its prophecies of environmental cataclysm. 

The public is left to choose between unsustainable costs or existential climate doom, supposedly proven certain by “science.” But what does noncontroversial “science” really prove? 

First, there is no doubt that greatly increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, absent extreme amounts of negative feedback, will elevate temperatures. No reasonable scientist disputes this bland statement. 

But three questions are generally avoided, or dishonestly addressed, by demagoguing politicians and the credulous media. First, how great a temperature increase will be caused by doubling CO2? Second, even if we accept massive, debilitating costs to fight CO2 increases, will bearing those costs actually help us avoid the environmental Armageddon predicted, or, will the status quo persist in any event? Third, are there significant benefits from increasing CO2 that will substantially improve life for billions of impoverished individuals worldwide, with negligible costs?

If overbearing costs produce miniscule benefit, while less onerous, sensible regulation would yield bounteous benefit, then the country should jettison the sky-is-falling narrative. 

There is sound data to address these issues, easily accessible to any curious, moderately intelligent reporter. However, this noncontroversial science yields several truths inconvenient to climate activists and their dupes.

Let’s start. Without our “greenhouse” atmosphere, the “black body” temperature of the earth would be 255° kelvin, with all warming radiation from the sun (394W/m²) escaping untrapped into the atmosphere. This is a basic, accepted calculation

With our present greenhouse gas atmosphere, approximately 150 W/m² are blocked by the absorption of the escaping heat, leading to an increase of about 33° K (also 33° C), for an average global temperature at equilibrium of about 288° Kelvin. Out of this 33 degrees of greenhouse “trapping” effect, about 20 percent comes from CO2, absorbing about 30W/m², resulting in about 6.6° K and C of this greenhouse effect. Except for trivial tweaking to these numbers, they are not controversial. 

CO2 is a powerful greenhouse gas at lower concentrations. The present CO2 atmospheric concentration is rounded to be roughly 400ppm. The first 50ppm of CO2 produced 75 percent of the CO2’s total present heat absorption. Why so much? Because the absorption effect of CO2 decreases logarithmically. Why is it that the effect decreases so dramatically? Because the heat leaving the earth does so in various infrared wavelengths. Only the wavelengths from about 13.5 microns to 15.5 microns are powerfully absorbed by CO2.

This primary absorption band is essentially saturated at 400ppm, and CO2 is then left to compete with H2O, weakly, for other bands, with little effect. This is acknowledged science, easy to demonstrate through absorption band analysis in widely published studies. 

What would be the effect of future increase from 400ppm to the unlikely high level of 800ppm, for example? Even according to the highly biased political arm of the climate-hysterical Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the increase in solar absorption would be about 3.7W/m². Physics Professor William Happer of Princeton University claims this will be somewhere between 2.5 and 3.0W/m², a difference only marginally significant. If we accept 3.5 W/m² for illustrative purposes—a very mainstream hypothesis—such would amount to only an .8° C rise at this stunningly high concentration level. Again, this math is not difficult or, in substance, debatable. 

The Paris Accords acknowledge, as do other climate fretters, that the world’s goal should be keeping greenhouse gas temperature increases below 2° C. Therefore, shouldn’t a .8° future rise show that there is no cause for alarm? Even if we count from the 290ppm “pre-industrial” concentrations, doubling from that number would still get a temperature rise of only 1.1° C or 1.2° C, much of which has already occurred at 400ppm. 

So, unless these rises of either .8° C or 1.2° C cause enormous positive feedbacks, there are no worries. (By “positive feedbacks” we mean that the temperature rise with these feedbacks, will result in a higher temperature rise than that solely caused by CO2.) Without proof, climate Cassandras predict a disaster of 3° C to 5° C warming from these rises. Indeed, most pro-hysteria computer programs assume a positive feedback of approximately four times what the non-feedback math otherwise provides. Thus, a rise of .8° C with feedbacks, will ultimately result in a temperature increase of 3.2°. 

This enormous feedback effect, however, is exactly what “science” has not yet come close to proving. This positive feedback is not premised on any unique characteristic of the CO2 molecule but is simply based on the heat (.8 – 1.2° in our analysis) caused by doubling, which in turn allows the atmosphere to hold more water vapor and clouds, which are the strongest contributors (50 percent for vapor, 25 percent for clouds) to the greenhouse gas effect. 

This sounds good, but momentary reflection should cause us to ask: By this reasoning, why wouldn’t all heat increases generate positive feedbacks and runaway warming? The answer is that this feedback hypothesis would indeed cause runaway heat amplification no matter the cause of the original temperature increase. Yet, earth’s weather system has displayed a design and a history of modulating heat increases, not amplifying them. The earth, after all, has seen CO2 concentrations as high as 6000 ppm!

But, in any case, the core truth is that the amplification hypothesis is embarrassingly unproven. A minor negative, or minor positive, feedback is more likely and in accord with modern measurements. Indeed, the net conclusion of IPCC studies of water vapor and cloud formation is that they are admittedly very poorly understood.

If heat increases from CO2 cause increases in low clouds, which cool the earth, or cause equatorial “chimney” cloud concentration, as hypothesized by MIT professor Richard Lindzen, allowing even more heat to escape, the feedback would be net negative. But again, feedbacks are poorly understood.

Further, if we assume that there is strong positive amplification from any minor temperature increase caused by CO2, even John Kerry admits that full compliance with the Paris Accords would have virtually no significant effect on the earth’s temperature. Moreover, China (37 percent of CO2 global emissions) and India (15 percent) are not signatories, and are instead absurdly assumed likely to follow the “good example” of America and the EU. Lots of luck on that.

If CO2 concentrations were decreased, food production for marginally nourished populations would decrease, because CO2 is a significant plant food. Greenhouses customarily induce CO2 in order to greatly increase plant growth. 

Then there is water, a scarce global resource. Increasing CO2 causes less lengthy stomata openings, and over time less stomata, in plants seeking to inhale CO2 as their food. Fewer stomata, or less time opened, conserves water, which is otherwise lost through open stomata. Accordingly, increasing CO2 would dramatically increase the water available to the earth’s population, otherwise lost through plant respiration. Thus, CO2 as a greenhouse gas is proven to be highly and increasingly ineffective as concentrations increase, while global food and water are clearly increased. 

The idiocy of climate hysteria is consistent with religious belief posing as scientific truth. But at least when Galileo was persecuted for claiming the earth was heliocentric, religious leaders were not paralyzing society. As the brilliant duo of Joe Biden and John Kerry go to war on fossil fuels at a total cost likely far north of several trillion in coming years, we should ask whether this religious war fueled by their priestly scientific assumptions is worth the destruction of our society. 

About John D. O'Connor

John D. O’Connor is a former federal prosecutor and the San Francisco attorney who represented W. Mark Felt during his revelation as Deep Throat in 2005. O’Connor is the author of Postgate: How the Washington Post Betrayed Deep Throat, Covered Up Watergate, and Began Today’s Partisan Advocacy Journalism.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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