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CO2 Does Not Pollute: But Kyoto's Demise Won't End Debate

A gas industry leader says Bush got it right, yet admits the worth of carbon abatement.
Fortnightly Magazine - May 15 2001

in the form of CO 2 , only 4 percent stems from human activities - the rest is all natural circulation between the atmosphere, the terrestrial biomass, soil and detritus, and the oceans 1. Roughly 100 GtC per year are fixed by photosynthesis; 50 GtC each are released by plant respiration and decay of organic residues; another 100 GtC circulate between the atmosphere and the oceans, except for the total of 4 GtC/year of net uptake. Therefore, classifying CO 2 as a "pollutant" goes far beyond semantics. It is grossly misleading.

The issue of the supposedly disastrous impacts of human activities on global climate is also far from settled. Most of the 0.7°C surface temperature increase between 1860 and 1999 determined by seriously flawed thermometer measurements occurred prior to 1940, when anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions were relatively small. In fact, the increase to date is primarily a recovery from the 0.6°C negative peak deviation from the global average of 15°C during the "Little Ice Age," which plagued our planet during much of the second half of the last millennium 2. It followed the Medieval Warm Period, when it was as much as 0.5°C warmer. From the late 10th to early 13th Century, vineyards flourished in England and the coast of Greenland could be farmed. Earlier during the current 10,000-year old interglacial period (the Holocene), about 5000-6000 years ago, temperatures were as much as 2°C warmer, which coincided with the flowering of many civilizations. The melting of glaciers and some polar ice, which is now blamed on human activities has, in fact, been going on for well over 100 years, when the recovery from the "Little Ice Age" began.

By contrast, the expected impact of roughly doubling the CO 2 concentration has been a settled issue for more than 100 years. Based on simple radiation physics, such a doubling should cause an increase in effective emission temperature of 1.2°C. The problem, however, is that this value can be grossly inflated (or deflated) by the assumption of a whole range of feedback effects - stemming primarily from the role of water vapor in various forms (gaseous or as clouds of various reflective properties) 3.

Too Alarmist?

Why some fault the UN Panel

This winter the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently raised its forecast of possible temperature increases, but relied on a combination of questionable scenarios.

IPCC in 1996*

  • 0.8°C to 4.5°C - forecasted run-up by 2100
  • 2.5°C - most likely rise from doubling of CO 2
  • 450 to 650 ppmv - carbon emissions stabilize in late 21st century

IPCC in 2001#

  • 1.4°C to 5.8°C - forecasted run-up by 2100.
  • 1.5°C to 4.5 C - sensitivity to CO 2 doubling
  • 770 to 2190 - gigatonnes of carbon emissions, 1991-2100

* Second Assessment Report
# "Policymakers Summary" (summarizing IPP's yet-unpublished Third Assessment Report.)

- H.R.L.

In reality, 97 percent of the greenhouse effect is caused by these various forms of water vapor in the atmosphere over which we have no control. The greenhouse gases whose concentrations are affected