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Professor Augie Auer

Imagining Climate Change

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What a wonderfully powerful human trait is the imagination. No other form of animal life can think creatively as we humans…to dream up scenarios of passion…love, joy, hatred, anticipation. But distort our imaginative powers with a bit of fear guilt instilled by mischievous science…and presto, you have the makings of the catastrophic global warming [ooops, I’m sorry], I mean, climate change hysteria.

This hysteria was reinforced on 2 February when the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its ‘Summary to Policymakers’ (SPM); but the report on which the Summary is based, IPCC’s 4th Assessment 2007, will not be published until May. The problem is that the SPM was produced, not by the scientific writers and reviewers, but by a process of negotiation among unnamed bureaucratic delegates from sponsoring governments. Is it any wonder that this SPM attracted considerable media interest because of its alarmist dogma. The “Man bites dog!” stories always do.

So what is going on? Are we are a course of certain environmental Apocalypse? Of course we’re not. Here’s why.

Every one of the outcomes predicated on present continued burning of fossil fuels by mankind are projections generated by computer simulations of future climatic patterns. They are not reality, not certainty, rather a kind of computer imagination. And even with all the mathematical manipulations, the climate models are only as good as the knowledge that is imputed to them. And as much as we would like to think that our knowledge of all atmospheric processes is substantial, the fact is it’s grossly lacking in both scope thoroughness especially when it comes to looking decades into the future. This means that high levels of accuracy certainty just can’t be achieved. Sometimes computer models can’t predict our local weather with useful certainty just 48 hours in advance.

Then there’s the matter of CO2…that harmful gas that Al Gore would have us believe is choking us all to death, that greenhouse gas which Jeanette Fitzsimmons claims “the planet is groaning under the weight of”. Again, let’s set the record straight. To start with, CO2 is not a harmful, pollutant gas! It could best be described as an airborne fertilizer that humans exhale. Diesel exhaust, now that’s a pollutant.

The Earth’s constituent gases consist of 77% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen with the 2% balance comprised of the so-called ‘greenhouse gases’. These trace gases are water vapour (averaging about 1%), followed by carbon dioxide (CO2) at a whopping 0.038% (usually reported as 380 ppm [parts per million]), methane at 0.00015% and even lesser concentrations of minor gases. So how can a gas that occupies a measly 0.038% of our atmosphere warrant so much attention? That’s what needs to be challenged.

The greenhouse effect is a near–miraculous process that carefully regulates the temperature of the planet. By absorbing re-radiating downward some of the heat energy that would escape to space from the Earth, greenhouse gases effectively keep the average temperature of the planet near 15C rather than at (minus) –18C. So the greenhouse effect is required for life!

Water vapour is, by far away, the most dominant and naturally-produced of all greenhouse gases, contributing to a massive 95% of the beneficial warming process. Within the remaining 5%, there isn’t much clout available for carbon dioxide; it only contributes a meagre 3.5% or so. And when this input is subdivided into naturally produced anthropogenically sourced, just under 97% comes from Nature, just over 3% from mankind. This means that the human contribution of CO2 to the Earth’s greenhouse warming process is an inconsequential 0.12%. Even if CO2 doubled in the atmosphere due to man’s activity, its impact on greenhouse processes would remain miniscule.

Furthermore, the efficiency of CO2 as a greenhouse gas does not increase with concentration, as the Al Gores of the world tell us. Its effectiveness obeys the law of diminishing returns. Only the first 150ppm or so is all that is needed for the planet’s greenhouse effect to operate near maximum. Additional carbon dioxide only serves as a spent force.

Because of the dominance of a simple, Earth–unique gas, water vapour, we could say that mankind could not alter our climate if we wanted to! Since carbon dioxide is not the problem, there is no need for any mandatory reduction of planetary CO2 or punitive taxations to prevent its use. Note that this not a proposal to abandon our responsibility of stewardship of the planet’s atmosphere.

Scientists have an ethical responsibility to be truthful in their research, to avoid being arrogant, intimating intolerant. This is not intended as a criticism of all those involved in climate research, but it is directed in some regard to politicians policymakers who, in interpreting the ‘science’, tell us “You have a problem, we can solve it no other opinion matters”. They communicate through a seemingly biased media emphasizing unsubstantiated fright sensationalism: e.g., a rise in sea-levels that would inundate Pacific island nations. “We must act now!”, the global warming zealots scream. Yet I recall my Dad warning about high–pressure salesmen with the ‘It must be done now’ pitch. Where’s David Russell when you need him?

Recall the admonition of Robertson Davies, a 20th century journalist/novelist: “Every man is wise when attacked by a mad dog; fewer when pursued by a mad woman; only the wisest survive when attacked by a mad notion.” Imagine that!