Can Anything Good Come from CO2?
As much of America remains frigid, media headlines shout far and wide that catastrophic man-made climate change is to blame. But is it true?
What are the basic facts about climate that people need to know? Four questions can aid in the understanding of this complicated topic.
First, is the Earth warming?
Second, if it is, what is causing the warming?
Third, assuming that CO2 is causing the Earth to warm, what is the cost of mitigating its impact?
And fourth, if CO2 has little or no impact on the Earth's temperature, can anything good come from future increases of CO2?
So is the Earth warming? Yes! The Earth is warming, and it has been for over 150 years as the world emerges from the Little Ice Age. Atmospheric CO2 has also been increasing since WWI.
What causes the warming? That is a matter of intense debate.
In the 1980s, meteorologists observed that the Earth's temperature was increasing at the same time as atmospheric CO2 concentration was rising.
A group at NASA concluded that CO2 is driving the warming. They developed a numerical model of the atmosphere that projected an alarming rise in the Earth's temperature and made public announcements of an impending disaster. All the alarmist statements from the 1980s until today are based on numerical models.
But beginning in 1998, the Earth's temperature plateaued (currently referred to as the "pause") while CO2 levels continued to spiral upward. This caused a number of scientists outside the "alarmist" community to undertake an in-depth review of what has become a serious controversy.
These "skeptics" are convinced that meteorological data overwhelmingly show that CO2 is not a major factor in the global temperature. Their belief is based on three primary reasons.
First, the pause has lasted for nearly twenty years, while atmospheric concentration of CO2 continues to rise. Second, there is a poor correlation between CO2 and the Earth's temperature, as evidenced by the current pause and the fact that what correlations exist often show that temperature changes before CO2 rather than vice versa. And third, failure of the numerical models, which predict double and triple the warming seen in real-world observations, suggests that the CO2 terms in the models are wrong.
Nevertheless, assuming that the alarmists are right and CO2 is causing global warming, what would be the cost to mitigate warming driven by CO2?
This brings us to the meeting of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris in December 2015, when 194 nations agreed to reduce CO2 emissions by unrealistic amounts.
It was recognized that developing nations would need financial help to achieve their goals. The conference agreed to establish a "Green Climate Fund" that would be distributed to developing nations. The goal was to have $100 billion in this fund by 2020. Of the 194 countries, 46 agreed to be donor nations, which means there would be almost 150 receiver nations.
At the meeting, the 46 donor nations made an initial pledge of $10 billion, with 90% coming from six countries: England, France, Germany, Japan, Sweden, and the United States, with the U.S. carrying the heavy load of $3 billion. It was agreed that pledges would be paid in two years. Yet, two years later, only $3.4 billion has been collected, with over one fourth of it from the U.S.
In 2017, however, President Trump announced that the U.S. would pull out of the agreement. If we were to rejoin the Paris agreement, we would have to pay over $2 billion immediately to satisfy our pledge, and that would only be the beginning, because the goal is to have $100 billion in the "Green Climate Fund" by 2020. Without billions of dollars from the U.S., the Paris Agreement is doomed.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that it will cost the world $7.4 trillion by 2040, and Bjørn Lomborg estimates that it will cost from $70 to $140 trillion by 2100 if all nations comply with the Paris Agreement.
In addition, there have been billions of dollars spent domestically on global warming. The Capital Research Center estimated the United States spent $166 billion on global warming from 1993–2014, and the budgets for 2015–2017 were around $20 billion per year.
What does all this money buy us? Estimates assuming that CO2's warming effect is large range to as much as a 1.5-degree centigrade reduction in global average temperature at the end of this century. But the most credible figure, generously based on the IPCC's own assumptions of CO2's warming effect, seems to be under 0.2 degrees centigrade. That is a lot of money for an insignificant result.
Finally, if the skeptics are right, and CO2 is not a major factor in the Earth's temperature, warming prevented by the Paris agreement would be even less, though the costs would remain the same.
Meanwhile, can anything good come from expected future increases of CO2? The answer is a resounding yes!
We have known for years that CO2 enhances plant growth. Over 1,000 scientific studies on a variety of plants have documented this growth, but only recently has there been an attempt to put a monetary value on the increases.
Dr. Craig Idso, in a fascinating investigation, used the results of these studies to determine the growth rate of 45 plants for the period 1961–2011. These plants produce 95% of the food for the world's population. He then converted this growth into a dollar value. For the fifty-year period ending in 2011, growth of plants by CO2 resulted in an increase of $3.2 trillion for the world's agricultural community.
Dr. Idso then projected these results forward to 2050, assuming that CO2 would continue to increase at the current rate. The world could realize an astounding $9.8-trillion additional bonus!
The great news is that it costs nothing to achieve this goal. All we have to do is continue using fossil fuels at today's rate.
In summary, the alarmists' policies will cost trillions of dollars in a largely ineffectual attempt to mitigate warming, with no proof that mitigation is necessary and with current attempts proven to be utterly dismal. The skeptics' solution will result in a return of trillions of dollars in increased agricultural growth and, more important, will allow developing countries to continue using abundant, affordable, and reliable energy sources – namely, fossil fuels – to rise and stay out of poverty and avoid the high rates of disease and premature death that invariably accompany it.
Neil L. Frank, Ph.D. (meteorology), a fellow of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, was director of the National Hurricane Center (1974-1987) and chief meteorologist for KHOU-TV, Houston (1987-2007). In retirement, he continues studies on hurricanes and climate change.