Global Warming & the Natural Carbon Cycle of Plant Life
Throughout this commentary the term "Chicken Little" refers to those who blindly support the assumption that human consumption of fossil fuel is responsible for global warming. I do not use the term lightly. Future commentary will address the gross misrepresentations in IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) climate change speculations and the discredited and grossly misused "hockey stick" graphic. This commentary will raise a few questions regarding what is a "natural" level for atmospheric CO2 and who is in a position to state with authority at any given moment in time what that level should be.
Living Creatures Produce CO2
Inevitably, in any discussion of a change in the amount of atmospheric CO2, the question arises, "what about the contribution to atmospheric CO2 as a consequence of the vast increase in human, animal and insect populations during the past hundred years?" The classic "Chicken Little" response to that question is that the creation of CO2 by humans, other animals, and insects is part of a closed system and does not affect the overall level of atmospheric CO2. Sounds plausible ... provide, of course, you don't question that convenient proposition.
Consider that most of the Earth's land mass is found north of the equator. Consequently, the vast proportion of the human, animal, and insect populations are also found north of the equator. Now, for atmospheric CO2 to not be affected by the byproducts of human, animal, and insect life, the carbon that is consumed in the food chain would have to be readily available to absorb the excess CO2 produced (e.g., as humans exhale). However, since much of the northern hemisphere is dormant during the winter months, where is the plant life that will absorb any of the CO2 produced during those months? Well, you say, the food has to be grown somewhere so that is where the CO2 is going to be absorbed. Yet for that proposition to be true (and a valid reinforcement of the proposition that there is CO2 neutrality from the byproducts of human, animal, and insect life), then one would have to determine the impact on CO2 absorption when forests are cleared for land to produce more agricultural crops. Are food crops more or less capable of removing CO2 from the atmosphere?
There is the further question of what is the impact of excess CO2 generated during dormant months for plants? It takes time for atmospheric circulation to distribute all that CO2 to a place where it might be absorbed. Does it have no impact on the greenhouse effect in the interim? If not, why not?
Part of the answer to that question is that the overly simplistic greenhouse effect model often quoted by the typical "Chicken Little" proponents does not adequately describe the complex process that is known as the "greenhouse effect." For a more discussion of the greenhouse effect, see Meltdown - The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media (2004) by Patrick J. Michaels, Research Professor of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, and Global Warming, Myth or Reality? - The Erring Ways of Climatology (2005) by Professor Marcel Leroux, Directeur du Laboratoire de Climatologie, Risques Naturels, Environnement, Université Jean Moulin.
So, while animals and insects consume carbon-based plants as part of their life cycle and produce CO2 as a byproduct of that cycle, it is by no means certain that there is no significant, if temporary, contribution to the level of atmospheric CO2 as a consequence of that cycle.
Can Burning Fossil Fuels Raise Atmospheric CO2 to "Unprecedented" Levels?
The entire thrust of the "Chicken Little" proponents of human-induced "global warming" (perhaps the most notable "Chicken Little" is Al Gore) is that humans, principally those in the United States, are raising atmospheric CO2 to "unprecedented" levels, thus producing "unprecedented" warming.
But can that even be true?
Think about it. What are fossil fuels, anyway? Coal, gas, oil, peat ... and what are these created from? Well, if you recall anything from General Science 101, you will remember that our "fossil" fuels were all at one time carbon-based plant life. Time, environment, pressure ... all converted the ancient plant life to today's fossil fuels.
Well, since the Earth is a closed system, whatever CO2 is put into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels was, at one time, in the Earth's atmosphere as aerial fertilizer for those ancient plants. Such plants likely covered the planet's landmass at a time of more natural temperatures were prevalent. More natural temperatures would be those that are experienced when the Earth is not in an Ice Era, Ice Epoch, and Interglacial of an Ice Age, as Earth is currently. The vast portion of time since complex organisms arose on Earth about 2.5 billion years ago has seen climate regimes that typically have no surface ice at sea level anywhere on the planet (including the poles). Only at the highest mountaintops could year-round snow cover be found in the warm typical climate of Earth.
How is it possible for "unprecedented" levels of atmospheric CO2 to be attributable to burning of fossil fuels when all the carbon released from that process was at one time part of the atmospheric concentration of CO2 in the first place?
It is worth considering that the untapped supply of known coal reserves would supply energy needs for hundreds of years! Add to that the world's oil reserves, gas reserves, and untapped peat reserves, and there is a lot of carbon from plant life that is still locked in potential energy reserves.
And all of that carbon was at one time or another in the Earth's atmosphere.
Other than the time scale involved, how can the release of CO2 from fossil fuel burning be any different from the release of CO2 from human, animal, and insect life processes? In both cases, the carbon released was derived from plant life, which, in turn, absorbed its carbon from the atmosphere.
What is the Natural Level of Atmospheric CO2?
Which brings us to the question of what should be Earth's concentration of atmospheric CO2? Historically, CO2 levels have been dramatically higher (many times). Warming raises CO2 levels, which, in turn, can add to warming. But warm periods have always been followed by a cool period. It is the nature of Climate. What natural processes are at work to create the balance that has produced a continual climate change throughout Earth's history? Climatologists cannot tell you that. Yet they would have you believe they know that higher levels of atmospheric CO2 will be disastrous! On what basis? Wasn't true in the past, so why should it be true in the future?
When "scientists" who use doctored data to grab headlines are aided by "journalists" whose agenda includes pushing a political policy of greater control over our lives, can we really expect that we're getting the true story about "global warming"?
Who has authority to determine what levels of atmospheric CO2 are "normal"? Do we base our answer on what was true 100 years ago? Why? Why not base it on what has been the atmospheric concentration during the preponderance of time since complex living organisms existed on Earth?
If there is one thing about atmospheric CO2 that we do know it is that there is far more that we are not being told and that, far from being a "pollutant" (as many "Chicken Littles" like to refer to CO2), carbon dioxide is the aerial fertilizer that plant life depends upon as much as humans depend on oxygen.
Don't be misled by politicians whose knowledge of science and climatology is as shallow as their egos are monumental.
Bob Webster, a descendant of Daniel Webster's father, Revolutionary War patriot Ebenezer Webster, has always had a strong interest in early American history, our Constitution, U.S. politics, and law. Politically he is a constitutional republican with objectivist and libertarian roots. He has faith in the ultimate triumph of truth and reason over deception and emotion. He is a strong believer in our Constitution as written and views the abandonment of constitutional restraint by the regressive Progressive movement as a great danger to our Republic. His favorite novel is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and believes it should be required reading for all high school students so they can appreciate the cost of tolerating the growth of unconstitutional crushingly powerful central government. He strongly believes, as our Constitution enshrines, that the interests of the individual should be held superior to the interests of the state.
A lifelong interest in meteorology and climatology spurred his strong interest in science. Bob earned his degree in Mathematics at Virginia Tech, graduating in 1964.