Greenpeace alarmism unfounded

Yesterday, Greenpeace set off a siren outside climate talks in Bonn, trying to stir governments negotiating a climate change treaty. They’re not moving fast enough to save the world. They need a hurry-up. Surprisingly, even New Zealand earned a mention.

According to 7thSpace Interactive: “There is a group of countries who clearly have absolutely no intention of saving the planet from dangerous climate change,” said Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace International. “The US, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Canada are acting as if there is no climate crisis at all, and are putting their own short term political self-interest ahead of this global emergency.”

Of course, they’re trying to persuade us to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, which they claim contribute to dangerous warming. Such claims are quite unfounded. After listing inadequate, even paltry, reduction commitments from the countries mentioned (and no commitment at all from the Kiwis, yet) Kaiser says that by 2020 our emissions must be nearly halved, down by 40%. That’s only 11 years away. In 41 years, by 2050, they should cease.

Otherwise, Kaiser claims, the global temperature rise will slip over 2°C, perhaps 3°C or more, “which would wreak havoc on the climate”. He fails to mention that completely ceasing our emissions will destroy our economy and reduce our population. It will kill people.

Are these claims based, like the best science, on observations of the real world? No. The source of these predictions is computer climate models.

Nuclear blast modelling

When the U.S. conducted its last underground nuclear test explosions in 1992, the world breathed a sigh of relief. The earth was at last to be spared the assault and pollution, and mankind the anxiety, of the most devastating blasts imaginable.

Yet nuclear tests continue. They occur, however, in computer models, which in the late 1980s achieved the ability to realistically simulate the power and complexity of atomic explosions. The last underground tests were conducted to fine-tune and verify the accuracy of the computer models. Because of the verified models, the world is now spared the actual explosions—from the U.S., at least.

Are the climate models similarly verified? No, they’re not. They won’t be, either, until the end of the period under examination. That is, until 2050, or 2100. The sad fact is that, until verification is possible, the output of the GCMs (General Circulation Models) regarding our complex planetary climate will be no better than an educated guess. And a guess, no matter how qualified the scientist who makes it, is evidence of nothing.

But let’s assume for the moment that man-made emissions are capable of causing a temperature rise as large as 2° or 3°C, though there is good evidence against it.

What would that mean? Are Mr Kaiser’s dire predictions realistic? One way of assessing the answer is to examine the past—have temperatures been 2 or 3 degrees higher before? Yes, they have. Actually, they’ve been higher for most of the last 600 million years—is that long enough for everyone? It’s slightly cooler right now because we’re going through a series of ice ages.

Research shows that, for most of the time while present-day biota were slowly evolving, temperatures were sustained 5 to 8 degrees higher than they are now. It is, therefore, unlikely that plants and animals will fail to adapt to a mere 2° or 3°C.

Kaiser claims: “A three deg C rise in global temperature would lead to catastrophic and irreversible consequences for the planet. We could lose every third species on the planet, most of the Amazon rainforests and trigger irreversible melting of Greenland and West-Antarctic ice sheets. Countries are gambling with gigantic consequences which, if triggered, cannot be reversed with all the money in the world,” said Kaiser. “Yet we are seeing none of the same urgency or seriousness with which the world has treated the global economic crisis”.

Lose at least 600,000 species?

It’s hard to take these claims seriously. Let’s look at the first claim: we could lose every third species. How many species would that be? How many are there? Science has named from 1.5 million to 1.8 million, about half of them insects. Estimates of the total number of species range from 2 million to 100 million.

Given the circumstances these creatures and their ancestors survived, could a little more warmth destroy a third of them? A third of 2 million is 666,000. This is an incredible claim. The number of species that have actually gone extinct in the last two hundred years is probably of the order of scores, perhaps hundreds, and suddenly we will lose 600,000 over the next 90 years? Get real, Kaiser! Note that he doesn’t say we will lose the species, only that we could. The Earth ‘could’ run into a gigantic ice cream, but there’s no evidence of it.

He refers to the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets. How likely is that? What are the current temperatures? Are they close to melting? Not really. In Antarctica, the mean temperature of the interior is -57°C; on the coast, about -23°C. Up on the Greenland ice sheet, mean temperature ranges from -20°C to -30°C; it’s colder than the North Pole! Air temperatures 3°C higher than present won’t melt anything. It’ll still be freezing.

It’s worth noting that, during the last 600 million years, carbon dioxide levels were also much higher—3 times, 6 times, even 12 times higher than today, for millions of years at a time. The temperature didn’t zoom out of control then, but Greenpeace says it will happen now. For the first time ever.

The global warming alarmists are frantic for nations to agree to large expenditures on cap and trade schemes, to increase the price of fossil fuels and to provide funds to assist third-world countries lower their carbon footprints. Cost estimates range up to several trillions of dollars. In New Zealand, the initial cost of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) for the first year of operation has been estimated by Professor Bob Carter to be, at $30 per tonne of carbon dioxide, about $2340 per household.

Perhaps we’re to be saved from such mindless waste only by the lucky emergence of the global economic crisis—another kind of waste, but one with at least a silver lining: we won’t be able to afford to save the world.

Richard Treadgold

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