By Frank Thomas / Edited by John Lawrence
The slower rate of rise in global surface mean temperature since 1998 has been the last straw for Britain’s respected, eccentric, environmental scientist, James Lovelock. He now has made a complete reversal from being a ‘radical alarmist’ on climate change to being a ‘radical non-alarmist’.
In 2008, Lovelock said climate warming had already become irreversible, “Catastrophe is unstoppable and everything we are trying to do about it is wrong.We won’t invent the necessary technologies in time and ‘80%’ of the world’s population would be wiped out by 2100. People have been foretelling Armageddon since time began, but this is the real thing. Enjoy life while you can because if you are lucky it’s going to be 20 years before it hits the fan.”
The same man in his new book, “Restore The Natural Balance,” is now saying:
“We’ve got it all wrong with climate models, planet earth has not been warming the last 15 years as fast as it was – meaning we won’t be warming as much and as fast as previously expected. Climate alarmism is unwarranted. Warming will happen, just not as catastrophically as I once imagined. We need to stay skeptical about climate models. In the past, I tended to exaggerate the immediacy of global warming. I was led astray by ice cores that seemed to imply changes in CO2 were the dominant changes. It is a mistake to take the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s projections as if written in stone. I don’t think anyone really knows what’s happening. They are just guessing.”
Lovelock is a provocative, inventive independent scientist. His book, “Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth,” outlines a fascinating hypotheses about how the planet is a living and evolving system favorable to life. The Earth acts like a living self-regulating organism, controlling the planet’s chemical-physical interconnections and temperature to keep Earth habitable for life. The Gaia theory has attracted worldwide attention and stimulated vital research on the Earth’s biogeological system.
Lovelock became convinced of the irreversibility of climate change in 2004. By 2006, he was an adamant climate alarmist fearing technologies wouldn’t arrive in time and that billions of humans would die by 2100. He now believes that although climate change is still happening, warming is proceeding gently at a very slow pace in contradiction to the voluminous peer-reviewed research of IPCC scientists and other independent scientific institutions.
Lovelock’s sentiments are echoed by Princeton’s Dr. William Happer’s disbelief in the near-term threat of global warming with CO2 being a causative agent – i.e., a climate cataclysm doesn’t exist. In Happer’s words, “The increase of CO2 is not a cause for alarm and will be good for mankind. GHGs make the Earth warmer and hospitable.” For Happer, rising global temperatures are not caused by the rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. They are two uncorellated phenomena.
Unlike Happer, Lovelock doesn’t dismiss the correlation of CO2 growth and related feedbacks with Earth’s warming over the last century but he thinks the oceans may be playing a bigger role in climate warming, namely that the oceans are absorbing the excess energy thus keeping surface air temperatures cooler than they would be otherwise. For him, surface warming is going at such an extremely slow rate that we’ll not reach a “dangerous” 2 degrees C increase possibly for centuries despite the fact that CO2 emissions have been accelerating the last five decades.
Why Don’t Global Surface Temperature Trends Match Atmospheric CO2 Increases?
We all know the global rate of surface temperature warming has slowed down the past 15 years. The IPCC has admitted this is not well understood and may add another ten years to the irreversible tipping point expected in 2030 if GHG emissions are not sharply curtailed. But this short-term drop in the rate of warming does not mean we are not on a long-term warming trend that could well exceed a 2 degrees Celsius increase by 2050.
The last 15 years of up and down fluctuations largely due to natural variability is too short a period to identify a climate trend. Let’s not forget that CO2 can remain in the atmosphere for a century or more which means its increasing concentration due to human activities can have a warming effect on our climate for a long time.
The atmospheric average annual rate of C02 increase was 1.2% between 1970-2000 rising to 2.2% between 2000-2010 and now accelerating further to 3% per year between 2010 and 2013 as the economy meekly recovers. If it rises just 1% over the next 40 years, the atmospheric CO2 concentration will easily reach an extremely high 600 ppm by 2050. This means the planet will be absorbing ever more energy from the sun than it radiates to space.
Where will the excess heat energy go? Answer – probably the oceans with all the ecological damage that will bring. But then again, the alarm-proof Lovelock is telling us not to panic. His recent solacing remark, “We may muddle through into a strange and viable new world,” is not very solacing.
The CO2 concentration today of 400 ppm does not include the equivalent effect of other GHG emissions, e.g., methane, nitrous oxide, etc. These bring the adjusted 400 ppm to 435 ppm equivalent CO2 concentration in 2013. This also would bring the 600 ppm CO2 concentration forecast for 2050 as stated above to well over the 700 ppm equivalent CO2 range … leading possibly to a plus 4-5 degrees Celsius warmup of the earth by 2050. Most publications of CO2 emission growth and atmospheric concentrations neglect to include the equivalent CO2 emissions of other GHGs. However, IPCC reports do include the full effect.
The danger of the ongoing warming up of the Arctic is overwhelming given the higher toxicity or earth warming potential of methane! The Arctic melting permafrost has relatively more methane than carbon dioxide. Research confirms there’s at least 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide in the permafrost and another 1.5 trillion tons of housed methane clathrates in Arctic waters.
We are living in a world with over 7 billion people – an increase of almost 5 billion people since 1950 – injecting 34 billion tons of heat trapping CO2 into the atmosphere every year which now amounts to 400 ppm and rising. The last 50 year rapid pace of increase in C02 atmospheric concentrations has been driving ice melt, ocean acidification, rampant fires, droughts, heat waves, reordering of climate and ecological zones. For example, the volume of Arctic ice now is about 9,000 cubic kilometers vs. 20,000 cubic kilometers in the early 1980s which represents a 55% meltdown.
Lovelock and Happer say that there is no need for panic. After all, the 1998 – 2012 data shows that mean surface temperatures are warming at a minimal rate, far below what’s expected with increasing CO2 emissions. Is Lovelock thus right when he says the 1998 – 2012 trend means the Earth is not warming up, and if it is, very slowly?
Let’s look at the rate of increase in global surface temperatures and what it means. The earth has warmed by more than 0.6 degree C since 1951. Surface temperatures accelerated in the 1980s, peaking at 0.28 degrees C per decade in the 1990s, falling to 0.09 degrees C per decade in the 2000s. For the period 1998 to 2012 the average rate of surface warming dropped to 0.04 degrees C per decade.
This recent trend going forward means the planet’s surface would be less than 1% hotter in 2100 – well under the 2 degrees Celsius the IPCC warns is “extremely likely” by 2050 unless CO2 emissions are sharply reduced. Of course, 1998 was an extremely hot year because of El Nino. So this makes the slowdown in surface temperature appear more striking for the 1998 – 2012 period than it really was.
However, for the 1998 – 2012 period, the average rate of warming excludes the Arctic – by far the fastest warming region in the world. Using satellite data to obtain Arctic temperature changes, Kevin Cowtan of the University of York, UK, has recently discovered that the average global surface rate of warming was three times higher or 0.12 degrees C per decade during 1998-2012. Using weather stations for Arctic temperature changes, NASA arrived at a global warming rate of 0.07 degrees C per decade for the same period. (see: New Scientist, 7 Dec. 2013)
It makes no difference whether the 0.12 or 0.07 figure is correct as this does not mean warming has suddenly stopped or slowed down indefinitely just as the rapid warming of 0.28 degrees C per decade during the 1990s does not mean that warming had accelerated. Surface temperatures go up and down, as they have in the short 1998 – 2012 period, because of natural variability, e.g., changing currents, winds, volcanic eruptions, aerosols, black dust. The natural and human contributions must be separately identified.
The IPCC and other institutions have completed this scientific calculation task very meticulously. This work has revealed that the steadier long-term warming trend has been heavily amplified by human activities. It has been significantly disguised by a stupendous ocean sink where most of the sun’s radiation has been going.
Using 14 different models in IPCC’s 2007 4th Report, scientists performed an experiment to calculate the temperature path over the 1900-2005 period “With” and “Without” CO2 and other human-induced factors. GRAPH 1 shows temperature calculations with both natural forcings and estimated GHG concentrations. The black line is the Actual calculated global temperature record while the heavy red line is the models’ average Calculated global temperature with both CO2, other GHGs and natural forcings.
GRAPH 1: Global Temperatures WITH GHGs
GRAPH 2 shows temperature calculations only with natural forcings, such as solar activity and volcanic eruptions. The heavy black line is the Actual temperature record. The heavy blue line is the models’ average calculated global temperature with only natural forcings.
GRAPH 2 : Global Temperatures WITHOUT GHGs
Conclusions: This experiment confirmed that projections of climate models are consistent with the recorded temperature trends over the recent decades only if human impacts are included. In the words of IPCC’s 2007 4th Report (also validated in the 5th Report in 2013), “No climate model using natural forcings alone has reproduced the observed global warming trend in the second half of the 20th century.”
The consistency has been less thus far for the 21st century with accelerating CO2 and slower growth in surface warming. In addition to the planet’s thermal inertia (i.e., including the ocean’s) which creates a lag in the response of the surface temperature to the full warming impact of an increase in GHGs — the other reasons for this have been explained in this paper. The long-term temperature path is still going UP.
Dr. Lovelock, Dr. Happer and other scientist-skeptics claim that the IPCC’s temperature calculations, and any conclusions drawn therefrom, are grossly inaccurate, distortive “guesses,” manipulated for devious reasons by IPCC scientists and a number of global independent scientific academies. On the basis of their accusations alone, it would not be wise to gamble that the Earth’s accelerating radiative energy input/output imbalance poses absolutely NO threat of an environmental catastrophe in the relatively near future.
The point that needs stressing is that every day surface temperatures are not expected to perfectly track CO2 as CO2 proliferation isn’t the only element driving climate change. The varying temperatures we feel every day are only a part of the solar energy taken in by the earth. For example, the oceans have over 100 times the thermal storage capacity of the atmosphere to absorb the excess heat caused by human greenhouse activities. Human-caused warming is superimposed on a naturally variable climate system.
Studies show that a huge 94% of the net heat energy coming to the planet since 1971 has gone into the oceans, 4% has been absorbed by land and ice, leaving the surface air to absorb only 2% of the heat. The IPCC 5th Report says that from 1971 to 2010 more than 60% of the net energy increase in the climate system was stored in the upper ocean at 0 to 700 meters and about 30% was stored in the ocean below 700 meters.
This is bad news for lots of reasons, the most important being the potential release of highly toxic Arctic methane hydrates, destruction of phytoplankton generating much of earth’s oxygen, and the severe effect already being felt on coral reefs. This is an area I wholly agree with Lovelock – namely, we need to know much more about the ecological dynamics of the serious warming up of the oceans.
There will come a point when the deep ocean sink becomes overwhelmed. Changing winds are affecting how much heat and CO2 go into and out of the Southern Ocean. The danger is that winds that stir up deeper waters can lead to a reduction of CO2 absorption which would heat up the surface areas where we humans live.
The release of CO2-rich deep water to the surface would seriously drive up global surface air temperatures. Leading scientists are warning that this process is getting closer to the stage of actually happening. That’s why Lovelock is quite right in warning the climate science community that there’s much more to be learned about the influence of oceans on climate change and what can be done – given the extremely high CO2 emissions going into the atmosphere annually. (see: Geophysical Research Papers vol. 40, p 1754; New Scientist, 20 July 2013.)
Lovelock seems obsessed that a 15 year slower global surface warming trend is the key to understanding the Earth warming cycle we are in and the role of natural and human activities as determined by observations and modeling. The problem is that surface temperatures do not reflect the ever growing complexity of the changing climate, e.g., the multiple interacting positive and negative feedbacks, C02 exchanges with the oceans, ocean current, wind changes, etc.
Lovelock has always said the world is wasting time on renewables like wind turbines and solar. Wind is ineffective for the scale of energy needed and solar will not be effective for another 10 years – about the same time it takes for making a new nuclear plant operation. In his mind, nuclear is the safest, most effective alternative possibility … but of course that’s the opinion of just one scientist. He thinks Germany’s closing of its nuclear plants is a colossal mistake. I couldn’t disagree more … but that’s only one man’s opinion.
His unsupported assertions about renewables would not be accepted by many like Mark Jacobson, Prof. of environmental engineering at Stanford University, who has co-authored a series of reports and scientific papers arguing solar, wind, and hydropower could provide 100% of world energy by 2030.
Like Happer, Lovelock questions the professionalism and motives of the IPCC. He has had some disrespectful things to say about all who represent the international scientific community through the IPCC process, dozens of national academies of science, the leadership of all nations who have endorsed the IPCC assessment findings, and many others. “They don’t know what’s happening. They just guess.” But the question is, is Lovelock also guessing?
Presumably his new book will present credible evidence supporting his radical non-alarmist reversal. It will be interesting to see if Lovelock is guessing or not guessing, denying or not denying the speed of the melting away of Arctic permafrost and sea ice in a region warming up more than twice as fast as the rest of the world … setting the stage for huge quantities of methane soaring into the atmosphere in the relatively short time frame of a few decades. This environmental threat is without question a short-term near extinction possibility! Some humans will undoubtedly survive in the Arctic region.
The following statement by Princeton’s Dr. William Happer illustrates how people fail to set the high tone for the discussion they expect of others:
“I want to discuss a contemporary moral epidemic: the notion that increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide, will have disastrous consequences for mankind and for the planet. The “climate crusade’ is one characterized by true believers, opportunists, cynics, money-hungry governments, manipulators of various types – even children’s crusades – all based on contested science and dubious claims.”
As one esteemed climate scientist, Dr. Michael MacCracken responded: (see: “The Real Truth About Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change,” Climate Science Watch, 21 Sept. 2011)
“If people with similar views want respect in exchange, they need to be high-minded and give respect as well rather than saying such things. … What all scientists should be doing is pursuing a better understanding of the very complex Earth system on which we live, wherever the investigation may take us. It’s fine to raise new issues, offer tough criticisms if justified, and seek deeper insight – but it is also important to be taking an even-handed look at all information, be willing to adjust one’s views as further scientific findings emerge, and not question motives of those who disagree with you.”
For a more comprehensive exposition of the material presented in this article including more graphs, click here.
April 10, 2014