A Look at Both Sides of the Climate Debate

A Look at Both Sides of the Climate Debate


When preconceived notions are doing the choosing they paint the story you perceive. The scientific method is especially useful here. Applying its methodology ensures observations are as close to existential reality as possible. 

History’s rear-view mirror is an endless succession of one idea erasing the validity of others. Something that was based in hard science, like atoms cannot be subdivided, created or destroyed (John Dalton), is no longer true today. Remaining open is healthy. With this in mind, I explore two of the most compelling arguments made by climate skeptics to understand their position, and test the resilience of both sides of the debate against climate science research.

Following The Breadcrumbs

The field of climate science is very complex and it really is easier to choose whom to believe. Understanding climate models and projections (not predictions) to make informed decisions is not a straightforward task. To say there are a lot of data points that influence climate is an understatement but it is accessible.

CO2 Logarithmic effect

Maybe accelerated warming is not a byproduct of CO2. To find out, I turned to Alex Epstein’s provocative book, “A Moral Case for Fossil Fuels“, which makes some persuasive points and speaks to this idea.

There is a feature in climate science called the CO2 Logarithmic effect that has surprisingly been settled. It says the CO2 in the atmosphere needs to double each time from its current state for every 3 degree rise in temperature (IPCC’s median value). That’s a lot of CO2! According to the IPCC, surface temperatures have steadily increased 1.5 degrees since 1790, and measured CO2 levels are currently at about 420 ppm. Once the 560 ppm mark is reached, IPCC projections show temperatures rising another 1.5 degrees, or more. After that, CO2 levels need to double for another 3.

The surface receives about 3.7 W/m2 more energy each time CO2 is doubled.

From this vantage point the Logarithmic effect is one of the strongest arguments against CO2 as a main driver and is one Epstein enlists:

It is a proven but little-known fact that the greenhouse effect of CO2 is a diminishing, logarithmic effect; each molecule of CO2 warms less than the last.  —Alex Epstein

After digging deeper online, however, I discovered there are many other factors at play that will overpower this effect and continue driving global warming upward linearly.

Although CO2 has less effect at higher CO2 concentrations, this “logarithmic effect” will be overpowered by these 4 factors —Skeptical Science

Epstein does allude to these other factors calling them, “speculative climate dynamics represented in models that have utterly failed to predict climate.” As evidence for this particular claim he sources Bob Tisdale, who has not been published in any reputable journal (ISI), nor appears to have a background in geology, climatology, or in any other climate related field. It’s a big leap of faith to embrace more C02 when you know the entire story on the logarithmic effect, and especially when arguments to justify more come from individuals who are not working or publishing papers in the field.

Measuring CO2 Levels

At one point in earth’s history some 444 millions years ago CO2 levels were at 4000 ppm during an ice-age that lasted about a million years. This comes from a GEOCARB geochemical model study done by Robert Berner. It is often used as an argument against CO2 as a main driver, and in isolation. On its own, it does point to the possibility that high CO2 levels do not result in warm global temperatures.

Global average temperatures and CO2 levels are near all-time lows from a geological perspective; today’s CO2 levels are an estimated 5% of their all-time high (a highly fertile period). — Alex Epstein

There were many other factors driving global temperature levels during this specific ice-age. Drawing a straight line from then to current day atmospheric conditions leads to an oversimplified conclusion.

The sun was several percent dimmer according to established nuclear models of main sequence stars, and the oceans were at a lower temperature. With a dimmer sun, high CO2 was necessary to stop the Earth freezing over. —Skeptical Science

The 4000 ppm value that was taken from Robert Berner’s GEOCARB geochemical model is also, at best, a very rough value.

Berner explicitly advised against using his model to estimate Late Ordovician CO2 levels due its inability to account for short-term CO2 fluctuations. He noted that “exact values of CO2… should not be taken literally.” — Skeptical Science

The Way Forward

Fossil fuels still provide plenty of benefits but the two arguments explored in this post used to exonerate it do not unequivocally justify its continued dependence. Solar and wind will become cheaper than fossil fuels in 2020 and nuclear power is gaining traction despite its reputation; it is reliable and clean. While renewables may not yet be on a level playing field in terms of reliability, technological ingenuity and a growing awareness will bring it to the forefront as the way forward.

Image Credit: Shutterstock/xtock ID: 276228476


Posted in Climate, Science on September 9, 2018 and tagged with