The Climate Fringe

By Keith Kloor | May 9, 2013 7:58 am

Sometimes you have to sit back and marvel when the Wall Street Journal and the loony internet fringe are indistinguishable. Last month, Mike Adams, whose special brand of crazy can be found at Natural News, wrote an article that was sufficiently whacked for it to be reproduced by Alex Jones’ Infowars.com. It starts off:

If you talk to the global warming crowd, carbon dioxide — CO2 — is the enemy of mankind. Any and all creation of CO2 is bad for the planet, we’re told, and its production must be strictly limited in order to save the world.

But what if that wasn’t true? What if CO2 were actually a planet-saving nutrient that could multiply food production rates and feed the world more nutritious, healthy plants?

I think you can see where that piece is going. Now let’s head over to a new op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, by Harrison Schmidt, a former astronaut and William Happer, a Princeton physicist.  It starts off:

Of all of the world’s chemical compounds, none has a worse reputation than carbon dioxide. Thanks to the single-minded demonization of this natural and essential atmospheric gas by advocates of government control of energy production, the conventional wisdom about carbon dioxide is that it is a dangerous pollutant. That’s simply not the case. Contrary to what some would have us believe, increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will benefit the increasing population on the planet by increasing agricultural productivity.

I think you can see where that argument is heading. And you can probably see the similarity in the two pieces– one of them by a fringe loon on the internet and the other by semi-establishment types given prominent space in one of the most influential newspapers in the world.

Incidentally, some of you might recall a television commercial several years back, called, CO2 is green.

The ad campaign was spearheaded by an oil industry executive and coal operator–its objective to fight pending climate legislation in 2009. Its message then was the same that finds currency today on conspiracy websites and the pages of the Wall Street Journal: More CO2 = a healthier planet, so don’t be concerned about global warming. Does anyone actually believe this stuff, other than fringe conspiracists like Adams and fringe dead-enders penning WSJ op-eds?

 

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, select
  • jh

    Do I think that higher CO2 will save the world? No. Nonetheless, the positive effect of CO2 on plant growth is at least as well established as the heat trapping properties of CO2. It’s very well established that, all other things being equal, higher CO2 helps plants retain water and thus grow faster. C4 photosynthesis (used by corn and a few other grain crops, which reduces water consumption by plants) likely evolved in response to declining atmospheric CO2

    The ridicule that’s evident in your piece and throughout the Climate Concerned Community seems to be more political than scientific and, in general, I suspect it’s inhibiting productive research along these lines.

    • Keith Kloor

      The WSJ op-ed is deserving of ridicule, as are articles on the other side of the spectrum that claim we are on the verge of civilizational eco-collapse.

      • Tom C

        Keith – With due respect, you are making a fool of yourself here. Happer is not just a “physicist”. He is an eminent physicist. His specialty happens to be one that gives him great insight into atmospheric physics and climmate modeling. He also used to manage a large government research agency. His employees researched, among other things, “global warming”.
        His speculations regarding the positive effects of high CO2 might well be wrong, but they are not at all ridiculous.

        • ToSeek

          His specialties are atomic physics and optics. I fail to see how that gives him much insight into climatology.

          • Tom C

            ToSeek -
            Happer pioneered adaptive optics. Why don’t you look that up? If you still don’t get it I can’t help you.

          • ToSeek

            I guess I’m just too stupid to figure out how expertise in optics also magically makes someone a brilliant climatologist.

          • Tom C

            The main application of this had to do with how images from space get distorted as they travel through the atmosphere. The interaction of incoming electromagnetic radiation with the atmosphere is, to put it mildly, important to understanding AGW.

          • ToSeek

            My apologies for my sarcasm and appreciation for your providing a fact-based response. That being said, my understanding of his main contribution to adaptive optics was how to construct an artificial guide star. Understanding “the interaction of incoming electronic radiation with the atmosphere” isn’t really that significant.

        • Keith Kloor

          Tom C-
          Is that an appeal to authority you’re making? :)

          I do think somebody is making a fool out of himself , but I don’t believe it’s me.

          • http://www.facebook.com/james.evans.102977 James Evans

            KK,

            “I know you are, but what am I” isn’t really an answer to criticism. But that seems to be all we’re getting on this thread.

          • Keith Kloor

            Because the op-ed is asinine

          • Tom C

            Keith -
            No, I was not making an appeal to authority. I specifically said that I didn’t know whether the Happer/Schmidt claim was true or not. But it is absurd to claim that these are “fringe” scientists. What exactly is the authority behind the contention that this is a fringe claim and that these are fringe scientists?

          • Keith Kloor

            Read more carefully. I never said they were fringe scientists. It’s their argument that is fringe, fringe, fringe.

      • jh

        Keith,

        Most of the WSJ article is tripe. Nonetheless, you have to admit that almost any suggestion that higher CO2 might benefit agriculture is received with brutal derision by the Climate Concerned Community and thus the subject hasn’t benefited from anything near the level of funding as the atmospheric issues associated with CO2.

        That’s why I think your ridicule should be tempered. There is a potentially fruitful line of research here that’s not being pursued because of politics, and you’re dumping all over it without the slightest caveat.

        • http://twitter.com/Norbrookc Norbrook

          The problem which you (and Happer/Schmidt) so blithely ignore is that while increased CO2 *may* increase agricultural productivity, all the *other* effects of climate change wipe out any benefit, and damage it. For example, the increased drought conditions in “America’s Breadbasket” and elsewhere. If you’re losing areas to drought (already happening), weather pattern changes, etc. your agriculture goes in the toilet.

          • Nullius in Verba

            From Laird et al:

            “Extreme large-scale droughts in North America, such as the ‘Dust Bowl’ of the 1930s, have been infrequent events within the documented history of the past few hundred years, yet this record may not be representative of long-term patterns of natural variation of drought intensity and frequency. In the Great Plains region of central North America, historical droughts have persisted longer than in any other part of the United States, but no detailed records of drought patterns in this region have hitherto been obtained that extend beyond the past 500 years. Here we present a reconstruction of drought intensity and frequency over the past 2,300 years in the Northern Great Plains, based on lake salinity fluctuations inferred from fossil diatom assemblages. This record, of sub-decadal resolution, suggests that extreme droughts of greater intensity than that of the 1930s were more frequent before AD 1200. This high frequency of extreme droughts persisted for centuries, and was most pronounced during AD 200–370, AD 700–850 and AD 1000–1200. We suggest that before AD 1200, the atmospheric circulation anomalies that produce drought today were more frequent and persistent.”

            And here’s the recent history of the Palmer drought severity index (negative means below average soil moisture, below -3 is severe drought).

            As you can see, there’s nothing unusual currently going on, and major droughts are a natural part of the American climate, anyway.

            In the past there would have been nothing we could do about it. Without technology and cheap energy, people are vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather. But in the modern world, and more so in the future, there is a lot more we can do. CO2 helps by making crops more drought-resistant. We can irrigate, we can use hardier breeds, we can trade over long distances, we can build reservoirs and waterways to better manage what water we get, and if things get desperate, we can desalinate. We can survive and prosper.

            But only if we keep progressing economically.

            However, if we slow or stop industrial progress by diverting resources to more expensive energy sources, we lose that resilience, and deny it to the developing world. And we don’t even stop the droughts from happening, since they occur naturally already. Climate always changes – it’s not going to stop.

            You say ” all the *other* effects of climate change wipe out any benefit” but on the basis of what analysis do you say that? Droughts are infrequent, while the boost to growth from warmth and CO2 is continuous. How do you know which effect dominates? Do you think it hasn’t already been accounted for in the economic analysis? Do you have some sort of validated climate model that can accurately predict regional climate changes?

            Isn’t it just as invalid to point to a cost and ignore or dismiss the benefits as to point to a benefit and ignore the costs? How is this any different from the behaviour you criticise? And given that everybody has already heard and knows the ‘litany of doom’ side of the story, is it too much to ask that the other side can get heard on the same terms?

      • Tom Fuller

        IPCC: Research since the TAR supports the conclusion that moderate climate change will likely increase yields of North American rain-fed agriculture, but with smaller increases and more spatial variability than in earlier estimates (high confidence) (Reilly, 2002). Most studies project likely climate-related yield increases of 5 to 20% over the first decades of the century, with the overall positive effects of climate persisting through much or all of the 21st century.

        FAO: It has been shown that plant water status is generally improved at elevated CO2. …In their FACE experiments Hendrey et al. (1993) found that for cotton leaf area increased by 25% in dry plots, but by only 11% in irrigated plots.

        Nature: One of the most consistent effects of elevated atmospheric CO2 on plants is an increase in the rate of photosynthetic carbon fixation by leaves. Across a range of FACE experiments, with a variety of plant species, growth of plants at elevated CO2 concentrations of 475–600 ppm increases leaf photosynthetic rates by an average of 40%. …This would be expected to decrease overall plant water use… …

        Elevated CO2 also leads to changes in the chemical composition of plant tissues. Due to increased photosynthetic activity, leaf nonstructural carbohydrates (sugars and starches) per unit leaf area increase on average by 30–40% under FACE elevated CO….

        Summary

        Current evidence suggests that that the concentrations of atmospheric CO2 predicted for the year 2100 will have major implications for plant physiology and growth. Under elevated CO2 most plant species show higher rates of photosynthesis, increased growth, decreased water use and lowered tissue concentrations of nitrogen and protein.

        Hi from Shanghai. Sometimes the Great Fuirewall leaks.

  • JonFrum

    As if the New York Times doesn’t publish crap on climate science. The more you pimp your prejudices, the less seriously we take you.

  • Buddy199

    KK, I was waiting for your factual rebuttal. Or any data evaluating the positive effects increased CO2 might have on agriculture, change in energy usage during winter months, etc. I’m not being sarcastic. I would like to know the other side of the argument from a scientific stand point. And not “most climate experts agree” offered in and of itself as “proof” of AGW theory; that’s for the scientifically illiterate press and readers.

    • intrepid wanders

      I second Buddy199.

      What exactly is “fringe” about Schmidt and Happer? The Calvin cycle? Are C4 plants better than C3 plants? Is it the less rain magic eight-ball hypothesis (that is, until it rains too much…maybe…not today)?

      My hypothesis is very close to Schmidt and Happer, but I am willing to avoid a 5,000ppm (what’s that, 3.5 doublings or 5.5-8.5 degrees C, yeah, I leaned towards James Annan, this time). Would hate for the mega-flora/fauna to re-emerge.

      At our current rate, we might get there in 2,000 years. Too fringe? So, water feedback and more rain? That would mean that the C3 types would do well and Schmidt and Happer are correct.

      Not water, but methane since it is 4X CO2? (And so on and so on…)

      Perhaps, it would be easier if you could provide us recessive Neanderthals with the short form hypothesis of AGW that was published in peer reviewed literature that covers all of this…oh. Really?

  • http://twitter.com/FilmTimelapse Daniel Lowe

    related article: “More Carbon Dioxide is not necessarily good for plants”

    http://skepticalscience.com/Increasing-Carbon-Dioxide-is-not-good-for-plants.html

  • looselycoupled

    Their argument that more C02 = good for plants, therefore more C02 is good for humans is a non-sequitur. The problem with increased C02 isn’t that it is a “poison” or “pollution”. It is that there will be a corresponding rise in temperature that will likely cause major changes to the earth’s climate systems which will cause major disruptions to weather patterns, rainfall, river systems, growing seasons, etc.

    Yes, assuming there was no temperature increase, higher C02 levels may be beneficial to certain plants. However, that is more than offset by the possible planetary disruption caused by increasing temperatures and increasing ocean acidity. Billions of humans cannot just adapt overnight if current agricultural land becomes unusable because of drought or if major river systems in Asia dry up.

    Its unbelievable how much disinformation and bull$hit is out there. Climate change science is complex, but the basic facts of the situation really aren’t. The majority of scientists believe that increasing concentrations of C02 (and other gases like Methane) will cause increasing average temperatures. Increasing average temperatures will cause more extreme weather, will change rainfall patterns, and will cause the polar ice caps to melt, raising sea levels. This isn’t up for debate. What IS up for debate is how severe it will be and how fast it will happen, and what we should do about it (try to bring down emissions or just try to adapt to the new conditions — or both?)

  • tushdi

    In the real world the high cost of green energy policies are killing people. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/elderhealth/9959856/Its-the-cold-not-global-warming-that-we-should-be-worried-about.html
    “Since Sir David’s exhortations, some 250,000 Brits have died from the cold, and 10,000 from the heat. It is horribly clear that we have been focusing on the wrong enemy. Instead of making sure energy was affordable, ministers have been trying to make it more expensive, with carbon price floors and emissions trading schemes. Fuel prices have doubled over seven years, forcing millions to choose between heat and food – and government has found itself a major part of the problem.”

    Moreover, Freeman Dyson a renowned physicist who has been teaching at the Institute for Advanced Studyin Princeton. “most brilliant physicist on the planet.” since Albert Einstein. scoffs at those who believe in Catastrophic Climate Change.

    “I just think they don’t understand the climate,” he said of climatologists. “Their computer models are full of fudge factors.”

    http://blog.nj.com/njv_paul_mulshine/2013/04/climatologists_are_no_einstein.html

  • http://www.facebook.com/ecogreenie.congame EcoGreenie ConGame

    These two should be ashamed. I mean really, using science to prove something.

    They need to realize that hair brained computer models that produce incorrect forecasts of future doom & gloom are far more useful to Gaia & Greenietards everywhere than old fashioned science, using data and such.

    Who do these guys think they are. We have invested so much time in fearmongering over non existent global warming/climate change/stormy weather and these guys could ruin the whole scam, end the Great Greenie Grift.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Mangan/100000886420382 Mike Mangan

    Yet Keith has no problem accepting the works of the contemptible Michael Mann. I’m supposed to look down my nose at Schmidt and Happer but support the notion that a trace gas is going to destroy all life on Earth based on Mannian mathematics and dendrophrenology?

    • Keith Kloor

      Mike,
      Being familiar with your comments at Dot Earth, on occasion here and other blogs, your obsession with Mann doesn’t surprise me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Mangan/100000886420382 Mike Mangan

    So if an oil company executive says 2+2=4 it’s not true. If a windmill executive says 2+2=17 then you can take it to the bank.

  • kdk33

    Longer growing seasons, expanded crop ranges, free fertilizer, and more rain. What’s to worry.

    One of the big tells in the great climate swindle is that the glaringly obvious benefits are completely ignored.

    But the gig is almost up, and my wallet will be much the fatter for it.

  • Richard_Arrett

    Keith:

    I am a bit lost as to your point.

    Plants do grow better with more CO2 – hence greenhouses.

    If any increase in CO2 is “bad”, what do you propose?

    That all 7 billion people stop breathing?

    You do realize that every breath you exhale has CO2 in it – right?

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Does anyone actually believe this stuff, other than fringe conspiracists like Adams and fringe dead-enders penning WSJ op-eds?”

    Yes. It’s the economic consensus according to papers such as those by Richard Tol and cited extensively in the IPCC reports. Up to 2 C warming CO2 is (on average, with wide uncertainty bounds) expected to be beneficial, (and beyond that not so much).

    See figure 1 here. That’s the *net* benefit, by the way, not the benefit confined to the agricultural sector, which may be positive for longer.

    But besides that, this argument is a case of guilt by association. Person A has a vaguely similar argument to person B, and person B is a nut, therefore person A must be a nut too. Tch. Tch.

    What logical or scientific argument do you offer to show that the claim that CO2 benefits agriculture is actually false?

    • Keith Kloor

      NiV
      It always disappoints me when you bend over backwards to put lipstick on such dreck. But it reminds me that for all your reasonable rationality, you always revert to tribal form in the end when someone calls out the idiocy of your side.

      • Nullius in Verba

        The feeling’s mutual. You’re clearly a thoughtful guy, you’re capable of making strong and logical arguments, and rising above the fray, so it’s disappointing when every now and then you engage in this sort of stone-throwing and then refuse to defend your position.

        If you had observed that the WSJ article had claimed that increasing CO2 would benefit agriculture, and then argued against that on a factual/scientific basis (e.g. to say how agriculture would be impacted or that the benefit was outweighed by the other specific costs you could name) that would be OK science journalism. We could argue about the mechanisms of the impacts or the validity of the evidence or the trade-off of costs, but it would at least be a scientific argument.

        But you didn’t do that. You instead found an example where a crazy made a similar argument, and juxtaposed the two. That’s just illogical mudslinging, and an insult to your readers that you’d think we’d find that sort of argument convincing. No offence intended; I just think it is.

        The WSJ article makes a claim about benefits to agriculture that goes against your tribal beliefs – that you think is so obviously wrong you don’t even have to provide an argument. Maybe you thought the argument was too obvious to be worth stating? But at the same time, it’s obvious from the fact the article got published that plenty of people don’t find it obvious, so I think it would be a public service to say why, ideally with evidence. And you could perhaps also address and expand upon the more formal academic research saying the same thing?

        Among many, it is an article of faith that more CO2 has to be bad. It’s a corollary of the naturalistic fallacy: the belief that anything natural is by definition good and anything artificial is bad. But it makes no sense – humans are a part of nature, following the same physical laws. Any change can have good consequences and bad ones, which depend on your point of view, and artificial changes are no different. There’s no particular reason to expect the climate of the Little Ice Age to be the optimum. If it was formerly below the optimum then warming would be good. If it’s currently above the optimum then warming would be bad. But you can’t just assume.

        And it’s a simple enough observation that a lot of farmers put their crops in greenhouses with higher temperatures and enhanced CO2 levels, when they can afford it. Not so many put them in coolers where the temperature is kept down and the CO2 removed from the air. What does that tell you about which direction the optimum lies?

        Summer is more productive than winter. The greatest biological diversity is found at the equator, not the poles. Over much of Earth’s history, when all of this life evolved, the climate has been considerably warmer. What does that tell us?

        Shouldn’t we reconsider this unconsidered assumption? Shouldn’t we bring out explicitly the reasons you and all of your tribe know it to be true? Wouldn’t that make a much more interesting conversation?

        I don’t pretend to be neutral on the topic, but I respect and am interested in the opinions of people who disagree with me. All I really said was ‘yes, people do believe this stuff’. Why do you think the argument/claim is wrong? Where do your reasons for your view differ from my reasons for my differing view? Is there any way we can test the points of disagreement?

        I don’t mind criticising my own side for getting stuff wrong, but first I need to be persuaded that they are, in fact, wrong. That requires a quality discussion and debate of the reasons by which we know.

        • Keith Kloor

          The WSJ column boils down to this: CO2 is essential for plant growth, so more of it is better for the planet and that’s why global warming is hokum and nothing to worry about.

          I can’t take seriously such ridiculous logic. You’re welcome to. Nor can I can’t be bothered to go down into a rabbit hole arguing over this embarrassing op-ed. I’m happy to let the fringe dine on it and leave it at that.

          • Nullius in Verba

            You’re reading things into it that aren’t there. You’re reading a true and accurate statement – that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will benefit the increasing population on the planet by increasing agricultural productivity, and yourself making the illogical leap that this therefore means global warming is hokum and nothing to worry about. You’re then criticising them for your own error.

            The point of the article is that contrary to claims by the other extreme, which you criticise too, CO2 does actually have benefits, and it’s not going to lead to the end of the world.

            But we always get this sort of mutual misinterpretation in polarised debate. They expressed opinions you disagreed with. The demonisation reaction is sadly predictable.

          • Keith Kloor

            Oh please. The op-ed is crazyworld stuff and it makes you look bad to defend it. You rarely, if ever, call out the crazies when they go over the deep end, which is a shame. You could be a respected voice if you weren’t so ideological.

            Anyway, Phil Plait has more patience than me:

            http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2013/05/10/carbon_dioxide_and_global_warming_more_is_not_better.html

          • Nullius in Verba

            Sadly, Phil goes into crazyworld somewhat himself. He cites weather catastrophes without evidence, brings up the Marcott graph even though the authors themselves have subsequently admitted that the spike on the end is inaccurate and unrepresentative, and for which in any case the algorithm attenuates (i.e. doesn’t show) any climate variations on timescales shorter than a millenium, and then, amazingly, actually cites Mike Mann’s original Hockeystick paper, saying it’s been repeatedly confirmed!

            But of course you wouldn’t “call out” Marcott, Mann, or Phil, would you?

            Phil is quite correct that there are a lot of different effects to consider, and it’s the net welfare effect that matters. But Phil does exactly the same thing – cites one factor in isolation (extreme weather) without considering the rest and declares CO2 to be an unmitigated catastrophe on that basis.

            When as I pointed out in my first comment, there’s respectable research to say that the net effect of all those factors is actually positive up to around 2 C above present. Something neither you nor Phil have addressed. I don’t think H&S were making that claim, but it’s apparently true nevertheless.

            It seems to me a case of: – somebody’s expressed a different opinion, we can’t actually refute it, so let’s just call them ‘crazy’.

            I’m not particularly interested in being “a respected voice” – I think whether people respect me says more about them than it does me. I say what I think. People can make their own minds up whether it’s worth listening to.

          • Tom C

            Keith -
            You misrepresent what the op-ed says. In the second paragraph they lay out very clearly that CO2 is unlikely to lead to severe temperature increases and that there is no evidence to tie it to extreme weather. So, part 1 can be summarized as “CO2 is not likely to lead to catastophic climate change”
            Part 2 addresses the possible concern “Well, what about high concentrations of CO2 itself”. The remainder deals with this question and argues that it will be a benefit, not a problem.
            The internal logic of the article is not as you say.

  • Tom Scharf

    What’s easier to believe?

    1. Longer growing seasons and more carbon dioxide will harm food production.

    2. Shorter growing season and less carbon dioxide will harm food production.

    It’s AGW’s blind dogma that increased CO2 is bad in every conceivable way that should be derided, not this piece (although it is clearly propaganda).

    The proper response to this WSJ one-sided viewpoint is to state “Yes, but….[fill in a balance of negative CO2 effects]“.

    What you get here is just “Hardee hardee har har, looks at the fools who think CO2 might be useful! What loons!” Dogma.

  • Curious

    Keith is one of my favorite science bloggers. Here it seems like Keith and Schmitt & Happer are making the same mistake. Isn’t this a straightforward empirical case? S&H are saying that the benefits of increased CO2 uptake by plants outweigh the harms of global warming. I’m actually interested in the answer. It would come from good models. Has anyone done that work?

    Keith is saying it’s false, calls them “fringe”, and for some reason thinks ad hominem is a valid argument. S&H are saying it’s true, but they can’t know that without some very careful models, which they apparently haven’t run. It sounds like they’re just making it up.

    The projected harms of warming is going to be a spectrum of probabilities, and the projected benefits of a richer CO2 environment for plants is probably going to a range of probabilities as well. We should be able to have a few of the likeliest scenarios spelled out.

    • Nullius in Verba

      “S&H are saying that the benefits of increased CO2 uptake by plants outweigh the harms of global warming.”

      Actually, they don’t say that. All they say is that there are benefits.

      “I’m actually interested in the answer. It would come from good models. Has anyone done that work?”

      Yes. Richard Tol, who is extensively cited by the IPCC on the subject. I gave the link earlier.

      Whether they count as “good models” is up for debate, though.

      “We should be able to have a few of the likeliest scenarios spelled out.”

      Sure. The IPCC did that with the SRES scenarios. The A1 scenarios are most relevant here, being the ‘business as usual’ rapid economic development cases – particularly A1F1 which is the high fossil fuel use case.

      The IPCC say: “The A1 storyline is a case of rapid and successful economic development, in which regional average income per capita converge – current distinctions between “poor” and “rich” countries eventually dissolve.” and “In the A1 scenario family, demographic and economic trends are closely linked, as affluence is correlated with long life and small families (low mortality and low fertility). Global population grows to some nine billion by 2050 and declines to about seven billion by 2100. Average age increases, with the needs of retired people met mainly through their accumulated savings in private pension systems. The global economy expands at an average annual rate of about 3% to 2100, reaching around US$550 trillion (all dollar amounts herein are expressed in 1990 dollars, unless stated otherwise). This is approximately the same as average global growth since 1850, although the conditions that lead to this global growth in productivity and per capita incomes in the scenario are unparalleled in history. Global average income per capita reaches about US$21,000 by 2050. While the high average level of income per capita contributes to a great improvement in the overall health and social conditions of the majority of people, this world is not necessarily devoid of problems. In particular, many communities could face some of the problems of social exclusion encountered in the wealthiest countries during the 20th century, and in many places income growth could produce increased pressure on the global commons. Energy and mineral resources are abundant in this scenario family because of rapid technical progress, which both reduces the resources needed to produce a given level of output and increases the economically recoverable reserves. Final energy intensity (energy use per unit of GDP) decreases at an average annual rate of 1.3%. Environmental amenities are valued and rapid technological progress “frees” natural resources currently devoted to provision of human needs for other purposes. The concept of environmental quality changes in this storyline from the current emphasis on “conservation” of nature to active “management” of natural and environmental services, which increases ecologic resilience. With the rapid increase in income, dietary patterns shift initially toward increased consumption of meat and dairy products, but may decrease subsequently with increasing emphasis on the health of an aging society. High incomes also translate into high car ownership, sprawling suburbia, and dense transport networks, nationally and internationally.”

      I’m not saying you should necessarily believe them, but it’s what they say, and it’s considered a scientifically respectable position, even in the contentious climate debate. The consensus is not what some people think it is.

      • Curious

        Thanks. A word was missing from my comment: implicitly. S&H are implicitly saying that the benefits of a richer CO2 environment outweigh the harms of warming (which they rate as near zero since they don’t take the harms seriously).

        They also deny that CO2 and temperature are correlated, citing only the last 10 years, which is odd. I think the correlation is well established, especially if you look at more extended periods of time. The direction of causality might be in dispute. The ice core samples seem to show greater CO2 levels *following* warming, which is surprising.

        I don’t see anything about the effects of a richer CO2 environment for plants in the A1 passage you quoted, or anything about the effects of warming. Is A1 a no-warming scenario? What about CO2 and plants?

        • Nullius in Verba

          Yes, it’s that “implicitness” that misled Keith as well, I think. I think they don’t mention it because a) everybody already knows, b) it allows them to fit in more stuff that people don’t know, and c) they may be trying to break the expectation that every article on climate must pay homage to the consensus before it can be taken seriously. The article presents only a partial picture. If it was being written for people who had never heard of global warming, I’d agree the omission would be misleading. But it’s not. You’re expected to know that harm is widely predicted, see that this is only addresses one element of it, and figure out for yourself how to modify your expectations for the future.

          They don’t actually say those other harms don’t matter, and offer no reasons for thinking so, so if you’re drawing that conclusion then you’re doing it wrong.

          They also don’t deny that CO2 is correlated with temperature – they say: “The cessation of observed global warming for the past decade or so has
          shown [...] how little correlation warming has
          with concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide.” In other words, that the correlation is far less than you would have seen if you only looked at the 20-year 1980-2000 period. The interval with the fastest CO2 growth has the lowest temperature growth, so they’re not so tightly coupled that there’s no room for other explanations.

          The ice core samples showing correlation following warming is a well-known effect. CO2 is more soluble in cold water, and less soluble in warm water. Massive amounts of CO2 are constantly being released into the atmosphere in the tropics and dissolved into the ocean at the poles. But the observed temperature rise would only result in about 10% of the observed CO2 rise by this mechanism. The fluctuations in CO2 due to temperature changes are, actually, visible in the modern record, if you know how to process it.

          For the other causal direction, we don’t have so much data. CO2 had only risen about 10% from the start of the industrial revolution up to 1950. The remaining 30% was all post-1950. The temperature rose between 1900-1940, was static around 1950-1970, started rising again in the mid-70s, and stopped again post 2000. If you discount the first rise as likely something else, and you ignore the pause in the middle, you’ve only got about 40 years of data with sufficiently rapid CO2 rise to show up.

          I only quoted a short bit on the A1 scenario – the main point being that there’s nothing about famines and catastrophes in them. No, they’re not no-warming scenarios, they’re the high-end projections that are most used for scaring people. Did you look at the Tol paper I linked earlier? It’s the one with the assessment of net impact you was asking about.

          But if you’d like some more on the SRES A1 scenarios, try this: “The effects of climate change and increased atmospheric CO2 are expected to lead to overall small increases in European crop productivity. However, technological development (e.g., new crop varieties and better cropping practices) might far outweigh the effects of climate change (Ewert et al., 2005). Combined yield increases of wheat by 2050 could range from 37% under the B2 scenario to 101% under the A1 scenario (Ewert et al., 2005). Increasing crop yield and decreasing or stabilising food and fibre demand could lead to a decrease in total agricultural land area in Europe (Rounsevell et al., 2005). Climate-related increases in crop yields are expected mainly in northern Europe, e.g., wheat: +2 to +9% by 2020, +8 to +25% by 2050, +10 to +30% by 2080 (Alexandrov et al., 2002; Ewert et al., 2005; Audsley et al., 2006; Olesen et al., 2007), and sugar beet +14 to +20% until the 2050s in England and Wales (Richter and Semenov, 2005), while the largest reductions of all crops are expected in the Mediterranean, the south-west Balkans and in the south of European Russia (Olesen and Bindi, 2002; Alcamo et al., 2005; Maracchi et al., 2005). In southern Europe, general decreases in yield (e.g., legumes -30 to + 5%; sunflower-12 to +3% and tuber crops -14 to +7% by 2050) and increases in water demand (e.g., for maize +2 to +4% and potato +6 to +10% by 2050) are expected for spring sown crops (Giannokopoulos et al., 2005; Audsley et al., 2006). The impacts on autumn sown crops are more geographically variable; yield is expected to strongly decrease in most southern areas,and increase in northern or cooler areas (e.g., wheat: +3 to +4% by 2020, -8 to +22% by 2050, -15 to +32% by 2080) (Santos et al., 2002; Giannakopoulos et al., 2005; Audsley et al., 2006; Olesen et al., 2007).”

          There’s lots more. I should warn you that some of it has been criticised and the economic side is no less contentious than the climatology. But figure 1 in the Tol paper linked above gives the bottom line.

    • Keith Kloor

      I appreciate that I am one of your favorite science bloggers, but again, these guys put themselves in the fringe with whacked arguments like that.

      • Nullius in Verba

        But you haven’t said what’s wrong with their argument.

        And don’t you think that an argument that goes: “crazy person A uses argument X, Princeton physics professor B says something similar, therefore professor B is crazy”, (without ever saying what if anything is wrong with X), is itself a bit “wacked”?

      • Curious

        Keith, I assume I’m missing a larger context here, a backstory that is prompting you to be so dismissive and non-substantive toward the articles you cited.

        The fallacy that NiV is describing is known as the Association Fallacy. Your particular form of it is described here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Association_fallacy#Guilt_by_association_as_an_ad_hominem_fallacy

        The claims here are pretty straightforward. S&H are implying that the benefits of more CO2 outweigh the harms of warming. We can go out and find the answer to that, at least probabilistically. As far as I know, there is nothing fringe about how plants respond to richer CO2 environments. So the answer is going to come down to good models.

        I see a lot of reasonable posts here. I don’t mean to say that the posters are correct (although they might be) — I mean they satisfy a good standard of reasonableness. They make logical arguments, draw from evidence, and don’t say things that we know are false. I don’t get a fringe vibe from most of the posters.

        Climate science is a hell of a complicated field. I don’t think we can rely on quick and dirty heuristics to guide us through it.

  • Cormagh

    I think this is a good idea. Someone needs to fight the constant climate propaganda from the American and British press, why not the companies?

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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