The religion of climate change (or, an evangelical message for the climate change skeptic)

George Sharpe
George Sharpe, Merrion Oil and Gas investment manager

Climate change is a bit like religion, can I get an “Amen?”  

Like the existence of God, man-caused climate change cannot be proven beyond a doubt. There are Believers and there are Skeptics, and most draw a line in the sand defending their position. Many also believe what their parents (or “the experts”) taught them without examining the evidence for themselves and coming to their own conclusions. In that regard, here’s a summary of the evidence on both sides.  

Ten countries with the largest reductions in CO2 emissions

The Skeptic’s Evidence and Arguments

1. Since the Earth formed over 5 billion years ago, numerous natural causes (from the tilt of the Earth to changes in our orbit around the sun to sun spots and solar flares) have been causing the climate to continually change.  The reason we have oil and gas in the Rockies is because it used to be the Cretaceous Ocean.  

2. The earth has had hurricanes and forest fires since the beginning of time. Every new storm or fire is NOT the result of climate change, man induced or otherwise.

3. Man’s CO2 emissions are almost immeasurable compared to the greenhouse gases already in nature. Compared to nature, man contributes less than 4 percent of annual total CO2 emissions, and CO2 is less than 5 percent of total greenhouse gases (water vapor being 95 percent), so Man’s contribution is less than two tenths of 1 percent of the total.

4. In geologic history, increases in CO2 have appeared to follow, not lead increases in temperature.  

5. Average global temperature calculations are inherently inaccurate, and are estimates at best. Further, the computer climate models used to forecast the effects of higher CO2 concentrations are unreliable and diverge widely from one to another.  

6. Even if Man is having an effect on the climate, efforts made by the U.S. to curb CO2 emissions will be more than offset by the growth in carbon energy consumption forecast for Asia.  Therefore, any action to lower CO2 emissions in the U.S. will have little benefit for the climate and will do nothing but raise the cost of energy, slow the economy, and cost jobs.  


The believer’s evidence and arguments

1. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution some 200 years ago, the atmospheric CO2 level has increased from a fairly stable 280 ppm to over 400 ppm currently. While this is not the highest CO2 level in geologic history, the recent rate of change is unprecedented, and the CO2 content is significantly higher than it has been in the last 500,000 years.    Even though man’s emissions are less than 4 percent of natural emissions, when added to a system that was theretofore in equilibrium (CO2 Sinks = CO2 Sources), Man’s emissions have tipped the balance. 

2. The cumulative CO2 emitted by man since the 1800’s roughly equals the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere, lending credence to the conclusion that man is the cause for the increase.  

3. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, global temperatures have increased dramatically. As can be seen from the graph of 400,000 years of CO2 cycles, which mirror climate cycles, most natural cycles take over 100,000 years to repeat. Solar flares, another natural cause, have cycles of only 11 years, so they are also not the likely culprit.  The only thing that directly correlates with the increase in temperature is the increase in CO2.

Cumulative carbon dioxide emissions since 1850

4. The Skeptics are right… average global temperatures are estimates at best, and different computer models vary widely in their predictions. But that doesn’t make them useless.   No matter how inaccurate the temperature measurements may be, all estimates show it to be increasing. And no matter how unreliable the projections from the various computer models’ may be, the direction of their predictions is consistent and irrefutable… the models predict that more CO2 leads to a warmer atmosphere. In short, the higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations may not be the ONLY cause of the recent increase in global temperatures, but they darn sure can’t be helping.  


Northern Hemisphere temperature reconstructions

The consensus

Oh, there is no consensus, the “97 percent of Scientists” notwithstanding. In the words of renowned climatologist, Paul Simon, “People hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest.” Another criticism from the Skeptics is that the 97 percent number is bogus, and that scientists are toeing the line to a) secure funding and b) to fit in with the group. I’m sure there is some truth to that statement.  

But I’m a scientist who is in the exact opposite situation. I depend on carbon energy for my income, and I have many Skeptical peers who I like and admire. I see the validity in ALL of the Skeptics arguments.  But just like I have 7.5 billion reasons why I believe in an inclusive God, I have 7.5 billion reasons why I think man impacts the climate. Am I 100 percent positive about either position… well, no.  But that is where the evidence (not people or pressure or someone else’s opinion) leads me. The question is, where does the evidence lead YOU?    


Thoughts for the skeptic

Skeptics made an error in even bringing up their final bullet point. It basically implies that yes, man’s emissions may be an issue, but given our current dependence on 80 percent fossil fuels and given the projected growth of energy use in the Third World, there is nothing practical we can do about it. That is a totally different argument than claiming “there is no problem”.

From a political and public perspective, Skeptics have already lost the argument. As soon as one claims they are 100 percent positive that man is not affecting the climate, most people quit listening.    I think Skeptics are better served by acknowledging the potential for a problem and, given their final bullet point, working with the Believers to develop a reasonable solution.  

Speaking of solutions, my next article will focus on the draconian recommendations of the Green New Deal, which are unreasonable beyond measure. Doing EVERYTHING right NOW is nowhere close to feasible or desirable. But the bottom line is that doing nothing is NOT an option.