Here’s the simple lesson in geology that all politicians need
Planet Earth is a warm wet greenhouse volcanic planet. The planet is dynamic, change is normal.
For less than 20% of its history Earth has had ice, five of the six major ice ages occurred when the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) content was up to 1,000 times higher than at present, and for half of Earth history CO2 has been sequestered naturally into algal reefs, coral reefs, sediments, altered rocks, bacteria, plants, soils and oceans.
The Earth’s atmospheric CO2 initially derived from volcanic degassing. Much of it still does and the rest is recycled CO2 from the oceans, rocks and life.
At present we enjoy a period of volcanic quiescence, but one big volcanic eruption can add as much CO2 to the atmosphere in a day as humans do in a year. Submarine supervolcanoes constantly pump out heat and CO2 into ocean waters, the effects of which are commonly not seen for thousands of years.
Significant oxygenation of the atmosphere took place when the planet was in middle age, after which the evolution of plants and the process of photosynthesis resulted in the recycling carbon out of the atmosphere and its sequestration into plants, soils and sedimentary rocks.
The atmosphere now contains 800 billion tonnes (Gt) of carbon as CO2, soils vegetation and humus contain 2,000 Gt carbon in various compounds, the oceans contain 39,000 Gt and limestone, a rock that contains 44% CO2, contains 65,000,000 Gt carbon. The atmosphere contains only 0.001% of all carbon at the surface of the Earth, and far greater quantities are present in the lower crust and mantle of the Earth.
Once fossil fuel is burned, the released CO2 does not remain permanently in the atmosphere, but over a few years is sequestered into the oceans, living organisms and sediments. It is also a fact that if all of the world’s fossils fuels were burned, atmospheric CO2 would not even rise to twice the current level.
At present, the Earth’s atmosphere is starved of CO2, and should atmospheric CO2 drop from the current 385 parts per million (ppm) to less than 200 ppm, plant life will cease. Over the last 250 years, CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by one part in 10,000.
Ice core measurements show that temperature rises precede rises in CO2 by 800 to 2,800 years. For the first decade of the 21st Century, all climate measuring data and methods show that temperature is decreasing yet CO2 is increasing.
On all time scales, then, there is no correlation between temperature and CO2 . If there is no correlation, then there can be no causation.
Over geological history , rapid large climate changes have resulted from the changing position of the Solar System in the galaxy, solar activity, the Earth’s changing orbit, tides, ocean currents, volcanoes, tectonics and the shape of the Earth.
Never in the past has climate change been driven primarily by CO2.
Furthermore, just because we humans live on Earth does not mean that changes in our lifetime are due to human activity. A small amount of CO2 (<100 ppm) in the atmosphere has an effect on atmospheric temperature, higher than 100 ppm its effect on temperature is minimal to negligible compared to the other influences that change our climate system.
If an extraordinary hypothesis is suggested - such as, that human emissions of CO2 will lead to dangerous global warming – then extraordinary evidence needs to be presented in its support.
In fact, there is no direct, real world evidence for dangerous human-caused warming at all, and that despite the efforts of thousands of scientists and organisations since 1990, and the expenditure of approaching $100 billion, looking for precisely such evidence. Instead, the global warming scare is built entirely around unvalidated computer climate models that are known to be wrong.
In voting on the “Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme” (CPRS) bill, Australian senators are poised to determine the biggest financial and sociological decision since Federation. Yet their vote is being cast without either a transparent, independent scientific audit, or comprehensive financial due diligence.
Australia’s emissions constitute only 1.4% of global CO2 emissions, so anything that Australia does to limit its emissions will be an exercise in complete futility regarding the prevention of global warming. On the other hand, if Australian emissions are reduced, then it is certain that the economy will contract, tens of thousands of persons will lose their jobs, and the price of power will ultimately double.
All emissions trading systems are based on the invalid hypothesis that human emissions of CO2 drive global warming, and the Rudd government’s CPRS is no exception. Senators from all parties must vote it down.
Ian Plimer is Professor in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences (University of Adelaide) and Emeritus Professor in the School of Earth Sciences (University of Melbourne).