Tuesday, October 23rd 2012, 10:20 AM EDT
“Stopping global warming” has no place in U.S. Election
It’s a relief for Canadians that America’s real concerns are trumping the loud and aggressive climate lobby in the U.S. election. After all, we have pledged to follow the U.S. lead on climate change. For example, our Copenhagen greenhouse gas emission targets are exactly the same. If America brings in a national cap and trade system, you can be sure Canada will follow.
Consequently, even though we have no say in what Americans ultimately decide, the U.S. climate debates are extremely important to Canada.
Before the first Presidential debate, nine climate activist groups delivered petitions with 160,000 signatures to debate moderator Jim Lehrer urging him to focus on climate change. For weeks main stream media pushed the issue, asserting that President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney must address this, “the most crucial issue of our time.”
But they did not, and Lehr completely ignored the topic as well. The same thing happened in the second and third Presidential debates in which neither the candidates nor the moderators said anything about global warming at all.
It appears that Obama, Romney and their running mates instinctively understand that, in comparison with the nation’s pressing issues, discussions about reducing greenhouse gas emissions to supposedly control the planet’s climate are not worth even a single minute of air time. A simple exercise in logic shows they were right.
This approach involves estimating the likelihood of an affirmative answer to a number of crucially important questions. The questions are chosen such that a “yes” answer, or a high probability of the answer being in the affirmative, is needed in each case for there to be a high likelihood that greenhouse gas (specifically carbon dioxide (CO2) in the U.S. and Canada) emission reduction policies are worth implementing.
Since this summer’s record Arctic sea ice melt has been cited by activists as proof that severe CO2 reductions are needed, let’s use that as a test case to see if their argument makes sense.
Was last month’s Arctic sea ice extent unusual?
There have been many times in Earth’s past when the Arctic was mostly, or completely, free of sea ice. As recent as the 1930s, the Arctic was warmer than today and so would almost certainly have had less sea ice than in 2012.
But, if the ice extent was unusual, is it dangerous?
Neither human society nor nature, including polar bears, are dangerously affected by the sea ice drop we witnessed in 2012 or are likely to see anytime soon. Some scientists assert that continued reductions in Arctic sea ice will amplify global warming since less incident sunlight will be reflected back into space by the bright ice. Yet Antarctic sea ice set a record high this year so net global sea ice is not known to be changing. The issue does not appear to be a problem.
However, if the ice extent was unusual and dangerous, was it due primarily to atmospheric warming?
Sea ice coverage is not just affected by air temperature. Winds, cloudiness, precipitation, particulate pollution levels, ocean currents and ocean temperature all play important roles. Arctic air temperature was lower in the summer of 2012 than in 2007, even though sea ice extent was lower this year than in 2007. This year’s change was primarily due to a storm in the region causing stronger than usual winds that broke up the sea ice, leading to accelerated melting.
But, if the ice extent was unusual, dangerous, and due to atmospheric warming, was the warming primarily due to CO2 increase?
Although there is intense debate in the climate science community about this question, it is appearing increasingly unlikely that CO2 rise is a problem.
If the ice melt was unusual, dangerous and due to atmospheric warming caused by CO2, is the major part of that CO2 rise due to human activity?
The main source of CO2 emissions are the oceans. It takes only a tiny rise in ocean temperature for massive quantities of the gas to be released. Oceans have always warmed and cooled for natural reasons so changes in CO2 levels could be entirely natural.
Nevertheless, if the ice melt was unusual, dangerous, due to atmospheric warming caused by human CO2 emissions, is it more effective to reduce CO2 emissions or to prepare for and adapt to the sea ice melt and other climate change?
Many experts argue that it is more cost effective to simply prepare for whatever happens next. They point out that we can’t reliably forecast economic and technological advances or even whether warming or cooling are in store for us.
The overall probability that CO2 reduction is a logical response to Arctic sea ice melt is determined by multiplying together all the probabilities that the answers to each of the above questions are yes. Many climate experts would assign a near 0% probability to at least some of the questions, yielding a zero net chance that CO2 reductions are a worthwhile response to ice melt. Even if one were exceptionally cautious and choose an average probability of 50% that “yes” is the best answer to each question, then the overall likelihood rises to a paltry 1.6% that it is worth reducing CO2 emissions because of Arctic sea ice melt.
The same sort of analysis may be performed, with similar results, on other evidence supporting the need for severe CO2 controls such as atmospheric temperature change, sea level change and trends in extreme weather.
Although logic rarely plays much of a role in the emotional climate debate, the American election has provided a welcomed recess from climate hysteria. Many Canadians hope this approach becomes the new norm in U.S. politics.
Tom Harris is an Ottawa-based mechanical engineer and Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition - see climatescienceinternational.org.
Tom can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org