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Who is afraid of carbon dioxide?

April 5, 2010

Yes, the average temperature based on 30 years of measurements is increasing, a simple conclusion also visible from studying glacier withdrawal over many years. Therefore, global warming is a fact, and we need to adjust. A monsoon climate like ours is a heat-driven weather system. A hotter planet would imply earlier monsoon rains and possibly more precipitation in this area. Some like it, some don’t, but we have to adapt. Panta rei, everything changes, but for individual humans who have lived but a fraction of a millisecond in the geological sense, any change is a surprise. Natural oscillations in temperature do occur, but what are the causes for the current global warming?

Originally I published this blog to get feed-back from various scientific experts to overcome my concerns, and thereby their explanations could be published here to further strengthen the carbon dioxide hypothesis. Unfortunately invited experts (such as a meteorologist who makes a living on giving talks on global warming) have been unable to logically explain previous global warmings. That surprised me and the more I studied the subject the more I began to hesitate that the sole factor behind the current warming is carbon dioxide.

Scientific experts can help me overcome my doubts by submitting logical feed-back on my concerns below, which I should be happy to share with their laymen supporters to sharpen their arguments.

First I state what I can accept so a critic of the critic do not waste time:

1. There is a global warming. I accept the measurement data and I accept what I see with my own eyes (the withdrawal of the glaciers).

2. There is a greenhouse effect whereby atmospheric gases and clouds absorb radiation reflected from Earth’s surface and emit heat back to Earth. Such gases are water vapor and carbon dioxide but not nitrogen or oxygen. These are basic facts from a physical chemistry class which I took in Arrhenius’ home university Uppsala back in 1987.

3. Although there is much more water than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the greenhouse effect per carbon dioxide molecule is much higher than the greenhouse effect per water molecule. This is due to the ability of the carbon dioxide molecule to absorb short wavelength light and emit heat (IR). Water is still responsible for 80-90% of the greenhouse effect. There is nothing wrong with Fourier who first studied this.

4. Carbon dioxide levels have increased which is due to burning of fossil fuels and to the heating itself. Gas measurements are simple, nothing to argue about.

5. Indeed I accept the careful measurements of gas in bubbles trapped in ice in glaciers, as a way to understand climate far back in time. I also accept the technique whereas oxygen isotope ratios in fossil sea shells can be used to estimate temperature millions of years ago. I also accept that there is a correlation between previous warmings and increased carbon dioxide levels.

6. Still, like Knut Ångström and a number of modern scientists (see references below) I disagree with Arrhenius who formulated the carbon dioxide hypotheses, stating that man can increase Earth’s temperature by burning fossil fuels. In summary, the reasons for my doubts are:

Although carbon dioxide undoubtedly is a greenhouse gas, you can not experimentally test the hypothesis that it is the main cause of the current global warming. The reason is we have no box large enough to fit in the solar system, keeping all parameters constant but manipulate carbon dioxide, keeping a number of boxes with identical solar systems as controls.

Although we are unable to create a laboratory to study worlds we do have the ice cores. The ice core data show that warmings have occurred many times during the past 400 000 years, and they were obviously not due to industry. This simple conclusion logically hints that there are other much more powerful forces playing (some of these are briefly mentioned below).

The advocates of the carbon dioxide as the main cause of the ongoing warming refer to the ice core data to show that the pre-industrial warmings indeed were correlated with carbon dioxide. As a soil biologist I say that I would expect that any warming must be followed by increased carbon dioxide levels due to microbial degradation of carbon traps (mighty humus layers in temperate areas). Experimental data have actually confirmed my theoretical logic: first there is a warming, and then there is an elevation in carbon dioxide (see charts below). If carbon dioxide had been the sole reason, then we would have been roasted many times before. That did not happen, the temperature went down and so did carbon dioxide. I think this is because carbon dioxide never played any significant role in the first place. Advocates say that the carbon dioxide emissions of the pre-historic world ceased. When I ask what that source was, the advocates can not give a logical answer.

These are my scientific objections although I am ready to change my mind any second other logical explanations are published. The problem with this terribly complex question is that no single brain can grasp all the publications within fields of meteorology, climatology, geology, vulcanology, paleontology, physical chemistry, solar astronomy, Earth’s orbit, soil science, ecology, forestry, computer modeling, statistics, human psychology, politics and marketing. I invite any scientist to teach Dokmai Dogma’s readers their field of expertise.

In addition to the scientific debate there is a public debate. I fear that many of the laymen, including journalists, environmentalists and politicians, erroneously deny that scientific critics exist, erroneously declare that it has never been warmer before and ridicule anyone who does not buy their gospel. I sense the birth of a new religion where the fundamentalist (not the scientific advocates) deny, escape and hide the flaws and take the size of the congregation as a proof they are right. The climate exhibition at Museum of Natural History in Stockholm excluded the inconvenient fact that there have been many pre-industrial global warmings. Scientists in favour of the carbon dioxide hypothesis are well aware of the temperature cycles, but since they can not explain them in a satisfying way their (unwanted?) congregation of laymen often select to hide this crucial fact. The result is a massive public propaganda and scientists who only play a marginal role feel the pressure from society and see the opportunities when applying for research grants. Thanks to the propaganda they do not criticize the fundamental hypothesis that the carbon dioxide is the main cause of the current global warming but accept it, confident that TV must be right when TV says every scientist agrees, and so many scientists spend time and money to evaluate the consequences of the fundamental hypothesis or the global warming.

The unfortunate tone of the public debate was set by the founder of the carbon dioxide hypothesis Arrhenius. He gave himself the Nobel Prize, appointed an anti-Semite as a head of the Swedish Racial Biology Institute who sterilized what he thought were inferior people, and he actively tried to block anyone who wanted to argue with him (such as his supervisor Kleve, the solar expert Knut Ångström and even Mendeleev). Al Gore and Attenborough are good people, but they have been fed with parts of the truth. A scientist takes a holistic approach and admits when he is wrong or does not understand. Also in the public debate I ask for a humble and respectful tone worthy of gentlemen.

These are my detailed argues against the hypothesis:

1) There have been at least 25 previous global warmings during the past 400 000 years, none of which were caused by man. The heating mechanisms in the pre-industrial world could be operating now, too. Tremendous energy was needed to melt the ices 10 000 years ago. Since the carbon dioxide levels were very low at the time, another mechanism must have caused the melting.  Six thousand years ago Southeast Asia had a warmer period than today, and the sea was 3 meters higher (data from the National Museum of Malaysia). During this pre-industrial heat period, when carbon dioxide levels were as high as today, the Sahara was greener and thriving. This is based on fossils in river sediments. Some research teams say that computer models excluding the vegetation factor as a major impact on climate are wrong.

2) An increased carbon dioxide level may be a logical but insignificant side effect following (not causing) an increase in temperature. The low carbon dioxide levels during the ice age do not show that low levels makes it colder, vice versa, when it gets colder, microbial degradation slows down and carbon is locked in organic soil layers. Here in the tropics we have very thin organic layers, and composting is difficult, as the degradation is quick and total. In temperate zones we have thick organic soil layers, a carbon trap. When the world gets cooler, the carbon traps get mightier. When the world gets hotter, the carbon traps get thinner and the free carbon dioxide level increases.

Some argue that pre-industrial warmings, which undoubtedly were correlated with increased carbon dioxide levels, were caused by volcano eruptions. A San Diego University website briefly explains that after all major modern volcanic eruptions a cooling effect due to the haze has been measured. If all previous warmings were due to carbon dioxide, it is a mystery where the source of the pre-industry carbon dioxide came from, but not a mystery if we consider any warming is followed by increased microbial degradation of the carbon traps as described above. Another possible source of carbon dioxide would be the transformation of nitrogen-14 to carbon-14 due to cosmic radiation, but that has not been a great source of carbon during the latest time span of 400 000 years.

3) There are more hypotheses. Changes in the Earth’s movements (Milankovitch cycles) is an alternative hypothesis for climate change. According to one model the current decrease in the planet’s axial tilt may result in an ice age, a cooling which began already 6000 years ago. This opposite doomsday prophecy was discussed in Scandinavia during the murderous winters in 1984-1986.

Variation in Lunar gravitation cycles may play a role by displacing high pressure systems. Solar variation may also impact climate via solar proton events and radiation variation. While some argue these hypotheses have had insignificant impact on climate, others argue they have had a major impact (Scafetta & West 2007). It is likely that the variation in Earth’s movements (many different types), solar variation (many different types) and volcanic activity occur independently and may affect Earth’s climate in a simultaneous and chaotic way, also resulting in cascade effects such as altering cloud patterns, wind patterns, albedo, oceanic streams and vegetation which in turn also will influence the climate, altogether making computer modeling very difficult. Interestingly, water vapor and clouds constitute 80-90% of the greenhouse effect. Lastly, there might be mechanisms and parameters we are not even aware of.

4) The holy scientist may be wrong. A peer-reviewed publication must be analyzed, not swallowed. Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius was the first scientist to propose a link between warming and industrial emissions of carbon dioxide in 1896. He believed it was a good method to prevent another ice age. In the modern global warming debate the congregation of unscientific believers select scientists such as Arrhenius and transform them into gurus. Contradicting their sacred publications is considered blasphemy (scientism). It is therefore interesting to acknowledge that another Swedish physicist, Knut Ångström, a specialist on solar radiation and its impact on Earth’s atmosphere, criticized Arrhenius’ hypothesis already in 1900. Arrhenius, a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences has also been criticized for his interest in racial hygiene, for his work as a member of the board of the State Institute for Racial Biology founded in 1922, and for awarding himself and his friends the Nobel Prize, while blocking physicist Walther Nernst’s Nobel Prize for 15 years and Mendeleev’s Nobel prize altogether (Friedman, Robert M. (2001). The politics of excellence: behind the Nobel Prize in science. New York: Times Books).

5) Since there is only one earth, it is very hard to set up an experiment to test Arrhenius’ carbon dioxide hypothesis. We can not make 200 boxes, each including a solar system, manipulate the atmospheres in 180 of the earth copies, saving 20 worlds as controls, and then draw conclusions. Trying to test the hypothesis in a greenhouse is not enough, because too many parameters are excluded, e.g. there is no ocean, no forest and there is no direct contact with space. Without a good experimental model, any hypothesis is very weak.

An alternative is computer models. Since current computers fail to predict the weather four months from now, there are reasons to suspect the computer programmers are not yet aware of all parameters needed to explain the climate 6000 years ago. This is clearly evident when you allow ecologists, geologists, meteorologists and astronomers have a clash and compare their different models. A computer model is interesting and a brave attempt, but a scientist needs solid proof, like the ice core data.

6) The widespread support of the carbon dioxide hypothesis may be due to massive marketing and social pressure rather than scientific conclusion. The carbon dioxide hypothesis got momentum when the British conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wanted to shut down British coal mines and build nuclear power plants. She directed huge amounts of money into this research, and mentioning “carbon dioxide” became essential to get money in the research community. Her method was adopted by many conservative parties in Europe. I can remember the Swedish conservative party leader talking about carbon dioxide long before the green movement, and at the time nobody listened as they were too busy hating nuclear power, the doomsday problem of that time. Political carrots rather than scientific minds triggered the second wave of interest in carbon dioxide as the sole cause for the current global warming.

Planting trees and lowering energy consumption are good acts, whatever the reasons behind. However, I am so afraid the carbon dioxide hypothesis which originally was humbly evaluated by advocates and skeptics, was highjacked by laymen including journalists to create another mass hysteria where we blame ourselves for natural variation. One religious thought is that anything bad that happens in nature is a punishment from the gods, due to our bad behaviour. The carbon dioxide hypothesis may satisfy such a belief, although we exchange ‘God’ with ‘nature’ and ‘punishment’ with ‘consequence’ and ‘prophet’ with ‘scientist’.

7) You can not decide what is correct by voting! One Associate Professor said that the carbon dioxide hypothesis is proven by the fact the majority of researchers believe in it. This conclusion is not intelligent and not scientific. History of science shows that Copernicus, Darwin and Boltzmann were lonely and ridiculed, although correct. You can not vote about the truth – 1 billion people can be wrong, one single person can be right. To go against the stream is very difficult for a human, even for a scientist. We all want to be accepted within the pack. As Konrad Lorenz taught us, we must accept the fact that we are animals. Agreeing to the will of the pack is far better than objecting, if peace or research funding is more important than truth. Please consult H.C. Andersen’s book “The Emperor’s New Clothes” (1837) for additional information on human psychology.

8) There is not a consensus or agreement among scientists. The claim there are no peer-reviewed  articles questioning the carbon dioxide hypothesis is false. Scientific committees in favour are composed of believers, but if you exchange the members with the authors below you would get a different result. Some scientists agree and some disagree with the carbon dioxide hypothesis. Here are some publications questioning a man-made global warming:

Chilingar, GV et al., Greenhouse gases and greenhouse effect, Environmental Geology, 58 (6): 1207-1213 Sep (2009)

Essenhigh, RH, Potential Dependence of Global Warming on the Residence Time (RT) in the Atmosphere of Anthropogenically Sourced Carbon Dioxide, Energy & Fuels, 23: 2773-2784 May-June (2009)

Gerlich, G and Tscheuschner, RD, Falsification of the Atmospheric CO2 Greenhouse Effects within the Frame of Physics, International Journal of Modern Physics B, 23 (3): 275-364 Jan 30 (2009)

Green, KC et al., Validity of climate change forecasting for public policy decision making, International Journal of Forecasting, 25 (4): 826-832 Oct-Dec (2009)

Karlén, W, Recent Changes in the Climate: Natural or Forced by Human Activity?, AMBIO: 483-488 Sp. Iss. 14 Nov (2008)

Click here to get a list of 900 more peer-reviewed articles which might be interesting to read if you are sceptical.

Click here for more information on climate.

Additional comments, identification of the real problem, reasons behind the problem,  and what to do:

When we contacted Greenpeace about the dam construction in Mae Khanin, they said they were too busy with carbon dioxide emissions to care. In my eyes, this is very unfortunate.

The bad thing with the carbon dioxide hypothesis is that people believe in a mechanism without the support of solid experimental data, implying we are still not free of superstition. The focus should be on the ONLY environmental problem (overpopulation), not imaginary problems. What IF the carbon dioxide hypothesis is correct? Still, ALL man-made environmental problems can be solved if the human population is reduced with some 92%, so this is where money and time should be directed. Lowering emissions won’t help as long as we keep increasing the number of humans.

Overpopulation can only be solved by fighting poverty and superstition. The methods are education and female liberation. We know this from promising results in Japan, Taiwan and Germany, where the birth rates have gone done. Today’s politicians think it is a problem when birth rates go down, as retired people will have a worse economy and then the politicians may lose votes. Their solution is immigration of uneducated and superstitious people to keep the coming generations more numerous than the previous. An excellent way to catastrophe.

It may take 200-300 years to lower the human population through low birth rates (1-2 children per couple). It will be much worse before it starts getting better.  Meanwhile, gardeners worldwide should save as many organisms they can in their gardens. We do not need one ark, but millions.

Eric Danell, Plant Physiologist, Associate Professor in Forest Microbiology, scientific consultant at Dokmai Garden, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Planting trees is good for many reasons!

Warm and cool periods on Earth during 600 million years.

Warm and cool periods on Earth during the past 10 000 years.

During the past 400 000 years we have had some 25 warmings, which seem to follow the carbon dioxide levels….

…but a closer look reveals that first it gets warm, and then the carbon dioxide level increases. Any soil biologist could have predicted that.

This is the chart that terrifies people, but the other charts I showed above shows warmings have happened many times before, and in those cases man was innocent. The same mechanism(s) operating then may operate now. We just need to find ways to adjust to the warming. Future generations will have to find ways to adjust to future coolings. Remember, saving energy and reducing the use of fossil fuels is still a good thing, but the carbon dioxide mantra blinds us from seeing the only environmental problem: overpopulation!

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 11, 2013 10:05 AM

    This is a totally unrelated subject but the conclusion is the same: “Science may serve our collective anxieties rather than informing us”.

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