Now, the current debate has changed from cleaning our water and air, and keeping them clean, to protecting the entire planet from man. To be fair, the environmentalists aren’t the first people who’ve argued that man is going to destroy himself and the planet if he isn’t brought to heel, as promoters of Malthusian calculations, Eugenics, and anti-natilism have argued over the last two centuries that the growth of the human population was squeezing the life out of the planet. It’s just that the environmentalists seem to have been embraced by the mainstream of our society in a way that the other loony movements never were.
The current argument goes something like this: the cumulative effect of decades of burning fossil fuels has led to an environmental “tipping point” (ah, another “tipping point”), and further fossil-fuel emissions are leading to drastic changes in the climate that will hasten a new “hot” age when the ice caps melt, the oceans rise, and life on our planet as we know it will disappear. In fact, proponents of this theory argue that their computer models show that these changes have been occurring since the middle of the 1800s, coinciding with the increase burning of fossil-fuels as the Industrial Revolution exploded across the Northern Hemisphere.
Of course many of these same researchers, or their mentors, argued in the late 1970s that fossil fuels were causing “global cooling” evidenced then by very harsh winters, and they recently have been caught discussing in emails how they have to continue manipulating the data to advance their cause. Moreover, they seem to ignore the possibility that the planet is still in the early stages of a natural warming period following several “cold” centuries that ended in the mid-1800s. But, we are supposed to forget all of that now (and ignore the colder winters we’ve been having lately in the Northern Hemisphere) and embrace the idea of “global warming” or “man-made climate change,” and all of the taxes, bureaucracies, and costs that will come with national and international regulations from the elites who are going to save us—whether we like it or not. I am sorry, but the skeptic in me has to ask: “Does anyone hear Chicken Little chirping?”
Unfortunately, the current rush toward regulations like “cap and trade” started when the Supreme Court added legitimacy to this nonsense a few years ago. In a 5-4 opinion, the Court ruled that the EPA must revisit its decision not to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases. Let’s just look at what the Supreme Court did and the evidence it relied upon, and I think it will become obvious that a review of the “evidence” discussed by the Court’s majority raises more questions than it answers.
To explain an opinion like this is always to oversimplify, but it is important to understand the general reasoning the Court used in order to understand the potential impact of this decision on future regulations. To get to its decision, the majority found that
- the EPA was provided with sufficient evidence of a probability that the theory of global warming is correct (which, by the way, is a lower threshold of probability required for the admission of scientific evidence in a court of law—but that’s a “whole ‘nother” issue);
- there was sufficient evidence of a probability that man-made CO2 emitted in car exhaust contributes to the cause of global warming; and
- a state (in this case, Massachusetts) could sue the EPA to require it to regulate car-emitted CO2 because that state’s coastline could be altered in the future if there is global warming.
The majority then construed the statutory definition of “air pollutants” to include greenhouse gases (which include CO2, methane, nitrous oxide and hydro fluorocarbons). The dissenters filed two dissents: Chief Justice Roberts challenged the state’s right to sue the federal government based on a hypothetical chance that its coastline could someday be lost; while Justice Scalia challenged the merits of the Court’s reasoning.
Three general propositions of the global warming theory were significant to the Court’s majority:
- CO2 is released from the surface and lower atmosphere faster than it is released from the upper atmosphere into space;
- as a result, CO2 accumulates in the upper atmosphere in greater quantities than the amounts being produced in the lower atmosphere at any given time; and
- the present rate of accumulation in the upper atmosphere adversely affects surface climate.
Now, before I go further, let me digress for a moment to discuss the upper atmosphere at issue. It is important to remember that the lower atmosphere is where you and I live, and it contains the air that we breathe. Meanwhile, the upper atmosphere at issue—specifically, the Thermosphere—is the portion of our atmosphere between 60 to 400 miles from the surface of our planet where our satellites and the Space Station orbit the Earth. It is the Thermosphere that traps greenhouse gases, naturally, in order to properly regulate our surface temperature and shield us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays and radiation. The density of the Thermosphere is affected by both its CO2 levels and solar activity, and there appears to be a relationship between those two variables.
Alright…back to the Court’s opinion. Based on the general propositions, the majority considered evidence of increasing levels of CO2 in the upper atmosphere measured since 1959 at an observatory in Hawaii, in comparison with samples of “ancient air” in the lower atmosphere taken from ice core samples in the Antarctic. Although measurements of CO2 in the lower atmosphere, including “ancient air,” had remained “fairly consistent” over time, a comparison of the highest of those measurements ever recorded to recent measurements of the Thermosphere from Hawaii showed that the recent measurements from the Thermosphere were greater than the highest measurements from the “ancient air” on the surface. Relying on this comparison of CO2 measurements, in conjunction with recorded surface temperature changes, the majority found that there was sufficient scientific evidence on which the EPA could determine that a causal link existed between CO2 increases in the upper atmosphere and increases in surface temperatures, so as to require it to regulate car-emitted CO2 as an air pollutant.
Does anybody else see any problems here?
If CO2 emissions have been increasing from cars and industry (and the respiration from an exploding human population has been increasing), than, all things being equal, the measurements in the lower atmosphere should have increased steadily over the last two centuries—rather than remain “fairly consistent”.
Based on the general propositions underlying the theory, how can “fairly consistent” measurements of CO2 on the surface cause an increased accumulation of CO2 in the Thermosphere?
If CO2 in the lower atmosphere has been “fairly consistent” while it has risen in the Thermosphere, the cause of any rise in the Thermosphere could be attributable to factors other than CO2 emissions from Earth, and such potential causes are not being properly addressed by the government scientists or agencies. For example, several organizations and universities in the U.S. and Europe are studying the apparent relationship between increased solar activity, the occurrence of the El Nino Southern Oscillation, and the increase in CO2 in the Thermosphere (which have tended to correlate closely over the last several decades–even more closely than the rise in industrial emissions), but the EPA appears not to be interested in addressing these other potential causes in its regulatory decision-making process. (Moreover, some scientists in the U.S. and Europe, believe that the climate issue is largely irrelevant, and are looking at whether the rising level of CO2 in the Thermosphere is changing the density of that atmosphere to the extent that the ability of our satellites and the Space Station to remain in their controlled orbits is being impacted.)
I don’t pretend to know more than any of these scientists, and I admit that the climate scientists could be right and that all my questions are either irrelevant or based on a misreading of the evidence. In fact, some people I know and trust believe that there is a significant link between man-made CO2 and climate change, especially as CO2 relates to the increase of water vapor in the atmosphere. Moreover, it does make some anecdotal sense that urbanization including the expansion of the footprint of concrete and steel over the surface of the earth over the last century, could have increased the earth’s temperature—at least in urban areas. Our inclination to believe such anecdotal evidence is reinforced by the physical changes to the icecaps, the sea levels, and the land masses, that are consistent with a process of planetary change. But the more I look at this evidence, the more skeptical I get that man is the root cause of the changes we are observing.
Because of this skepticism, I want to raise this issue—we need to all stop and think with some humility about what will happen over the next few decades if the environmentalists are wrong. What if the sky is not falling? What if the Earth is simply in the midst of a general warming period that will last for several centuries?
Here are the potential problems I see:
- We are expanding the role of a federal agency beyond its original statutory mandate, and the government’s competence to regulate.
- We are expanding the role of government exponentially, which could radically change our lives over the next few decades.
- We are increasing significantly and artificially the cost of living, which could significantly lower or slow the standard of living throughout the world over the next century.
- While we focus on regulating all activity creating CO2, what issues won’t we be addressing—like energy independence, national security, and protection of future generations and coastal areas from real long-term climate changes?
But from an even broader perspective, the havoc we may wreak upon the future won’t be just economic, legal, or political—mankind has survived those “dark ages” before. What I am most concerned about is the ultimate “unintended consequence”–we could damage the very planet we think we are saving:
- What if the release of these greenhouse gases periodically has to increase, in order to keep the life-sustaining capacity of the planet in balance as it orbits the sun, and as the shape of that orbit changes over centuries and millennia?
- What if the “consistency” in CO2 measurements while man-made CO2 has increased is actually evidence that man-made production has moderated an otherwise more significant decline in natural CO2 production over the last century?
- How will we know what the proper amount of each gas should be at any given time to keep the planet in some desired, long-term balance?
- How will we ever know when to stop regulating, so that we don’t deprive the atmosphere of enough gas to protect us from the sun?
- Do we really trust man with the power to make these types of decisions?
Man has never displayed the type of wisdom necessary to acquire or properly use this type of information. Won’t man try to keep the Earth in a type of temperate moderation—or in a suspended state as he now knows it—which will make his life happy, rather than allow the natural environmental changes that the planet needs to sustain life?
Could we now be giving in to our deepest vanity–to think we have damaged the world, and now we must correct it by controlling its very essence?
At the very least, with so much going on across the world right now, let’s think this issue through very carefully before we take actions for which our children will pay dearly if we are wrong.