Our colossal ignorance on global warming
By Dennis T. Avery
"It's not just that man-made emissions don't control the climate, they don't even control global CO2 levels."
That's the incredible message Dr. Murry Salby, Chair of Climate Science at the respected Macquarie University in Australia, presented recently to the Sydney Institute. Professor Salby's paper, with all the graphs, will be released in about six weeks. His book Physics of the Atmosphere and Climate will be released later this year. Don't expect an easy read -- but if his research holds up, it could well change the direction of the entire climate debate.
Salby suggests that the earth's own warming since the depths of the Little Ice Age (1680) has produced the higher CO2 levels in our atmosphere today. Not the other way around. He notes that humans emit about 5.5 gigatons of CO2 each year, but the oceans emit about 90 gigatons, and plants about 60 gigtatons. Salby says that many scientists have assumed the net flows of carbon to and from the natural sinks cancel each other out, but there's no reliable data to confirm this. If there's been even a fractional change in natural emissions that would overwhelm the human emissions blamed for our warming.
Salby looked at the longest CO2 record we have, Mauna Loa in Hawaii -- and graphed the changes from year to year. Some years, the CO2 concentration rose not at all. Some years it rose by 3 parts per million by volume. He reasoned that if the CO2 increases were due to man-made CO2, we should have seen faster increases with global industrialization.
Instead, Salby found that the world warmed fastest during the warm El Nino years -- our hottest time periods. The CO2 increased least during the years after volcanic eruptions, when volcanic dust blotted out much of the sunlight -- and cooled the earth.
Salby also found that the big sources of CO2 don't seem to be the industrialized areas such as Western Europe and North America. The sources appear to be more concentrated over the Amazon and tropical Africa. Perhaps the book will tell us why.
If the planet has been warming since 1680 AD, might that be time enough for the earth to reinforce its own heating with extra CO2 from warming seas and more vegetation growing and decaying in the heat? Certainly the warming oceans would be releasing more CO2 and they hold 70 times as much CO2 as the air. The White Cliffs of Dover are calcified CO2 that was up-thrust from the sea bottom by geologic activity, and there is lots more where that came from.
Tom Quirk, a fellow of three Oxford colleges, has also written on the worldwide mixing of CO2. He used the carbon14 emitted by nuclear tests in the 1950s and 1960s to check the mixing time between hemispheres -- as a test for the global atmospheric mixing time of carbon dioxide. It took several years. Measuring the CO2 at Mauna Loa against CO2 measurements at the South Pole, Quirk concluded, "There does not appear to be any time difference between the hemispheres. . . . The annual increases may be coming from a global or equatorial source."
Such as the oceans?
Dennis T. Avery, a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC, is an environmental economist. He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Hundred Years, Readers may write him at PO Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421, email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on www.cgfi.org.