Global Warming

2005, Revised, February, 2010

Contents List:

Politics
The "Greenhouse Effect"
False Analogy
Special Pleading
Photosynthesis
Respiration
Transpiration
Irony
Capital Expenditure
The Great Modern Myth
Natural Control
Postscript

Return to:

World Views
Ardue Site Plan

See also:

Looking Backwards and Forwards
Phenomena
Noumena and Karma
CO2 Science

Politics

Here in the UK, front-line politicians are waxing eloquent on the theme of "global warming". They are, perhaps excusably, alarmed at the rate at which the Earth seems to be getting warmer, but they place all the blame on the emission of "greenhouse gases" into the atmosphere implying that the problem will go away if the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can be reduced. Some of them even seem to countenance a ridiculous scheme to "capture" carbon dioxide and imprison it in the caverns left under the North Sea by the extraction of oil and "natural" gas.

In their concentration on carbon dioxide to the exclusion of other, more relevant, considerations, politicians display not only their usual absence of "joined-up" thinking but also the crass ignorance typical of a population which has been subjected to half a century of state monopoly in education and has been indoctrinated to accept any nonsense on trust if it is repeated often enough.

I do not deny that the mean temperature of the lower atmosphere has in recent years been rising. Neither do I disagree with the implication that human activity may be a contributory factor even though there is plenty of evidence that large variations in the mean temperature of the lower atmosphere have occurred in the past. What I object to is the failure of politicians to face up to well-known facts instead of distracting attention by pointing to "carbon dioxide emissions" as being the prime culprit, and thus giving carbon a bad name. This does not make sense from any point of view other than that of raising taxes to maintain political vanity in the short term while leaving succeeding generations to face the long-term consequences of their arrogant stupidity.

People who are seriously interested in the subject could glean much relevant information by consulting encyclopaedias or other reliable sources, finding out what is known about the structure of the atmosphere and about photosynthesis, transpiration, and respiration, and then considering whether the policies of their own governments make any sense.

The "Greenhouse Effect"

The principal constituents of the Earth's atmosphere are nitrogen (78%) and oxygen(21%). The remaining 1% comprises a large number of gases, including carbon dioxide and water vapour.

The so-called "greenhouse effect" supposedly refers to the warming of the Earth's surface and lower atmosphere. There does seem to be some correlation between the mean temperature of the lower atmosphere and the concentration of certain gases, notably water vapour. However, the atmosphere is so vast that it is not possible to measure very precisely either the magnitude or the extent of such a relationship.

The atmosphere undoubtedly allows a large percentage of the rays of light from the Sun to reach the Earth's surface and heat it. A part of this energy is undoubtedly re-radiated by the Earth's surface in the form of long-wave infrared radiation, some of which is undoubtedy absorbed by molecules of gases in the atmosphere, and then partly reflected back to the Earth's surface. This undoubtedly tends to reduce the rate at which the Earth's surface cools at night. The overall effect is supposed to be roughly analogous to the effect produced by the glass panes of a greenhouse which are highly transparent to sunlight in the visible range but less transparent to invisible infrared radiation from the heat inside the greenhouse. But that does not make the atmosphere anything remotely equivalent to a greenhouse.

It is further supposed that the increase in the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere arising from the combustion of fossil fuels aggravates the "greenhouse effect" and, by further reducing the rate at which the Earth radiates heat back into space, accelerates global warming and consequently produces long-term climatic changes. I am not aware of any reliable measurements whereby we may judge the relative importance of these effects by comparison with the effects of incoming radiation from the Sun and the heat directly released on the Earth itself by, for example, volcanic action and the burning of "fossil fuels". In any case, the practical effects of these variations on climate cannot be predicted with any confidence, although adapting to climatic changes shall, as in the past, pose for mankind problems which are unlikely to be solved by mere politicians.

False Analogy

To call carbon dioxide a "greenhouse" gas is to push an analogy far beyond its acceptable limits. The principal feature of any greenhouse is its outer "skin" of glass, plastic, or other substance which is transparent to light but impervious to gases. Its most important effect is to keep a certain volume of air enclosed in a confined, virtually draught-free, space in which its temperature and water-content can be closely controlled. There is nothing equivalent to the large-scale evaporation of water from oceans, lakes, streams, and puddles, which warms the atmosphere by giving up latent heat of vaporisation when the vapour condenses into raindrops a factor which does not apply to greenhouses because most of the vapour is kept in by the glass. The greenhouse is therefore not at all representative of an atmosphere which envelops the entire Earth and its oceans up to a height of something approaching a hundred miles, and in which all sorts of complex processes are proceeding many of them beyond the ken of, and certainly beyond precise measurement by, man.

Special Pleading

Although carbon dioxide quite possibly makes some contribution to the reduction of infrared radiation from the Earth's surface, common sense suggests that its effect is very small compared with that of water vapour. Who does not know the difference between a "cold, calm, clear, night" in which the air temperature falls rapidly after sunset and dew or hoarfrost are deposited on the grass, and a "mild" night when a "blanket of cloud" prevents rapid loss of heat from the Earth to the atmosphere? Yet I am not aware of any political desire to reduce the water content of the atmosphere presumably because politicians know very well that nobody in his senses will vote for a drought.

Everybody knows that water is essential for life in the body. What saddens me is that our legislators seem to be unaware that carbon constitutes the most essential chemical constituent of the body itself and that carbon dioxide plays a crucial part in the maintenance of life in the body. Indeed, without carbon, none of us would have a body.

Photosynthesis

We rely on plants for our food, because only plants can manufacture their own food from the raw materials provided by Nature. They do this by transforming carbon dioxide, water, sunlight, and a small proportion of minerals into carbohydrates sugars, proteins, and other means of storing energy. Animals and men eat plants and, in many cases, each other. Without plants, there would be no restaurants.

Photosynthesis takes place in the leaves of plants which contain a green substance called chlorophyll. In the presence of chlorophyll, which harnesses the energy contained in sunlight, water from the soil reacts with carbon dioxide from the air to form glucose; this in turn provides the energy for all the rest of the plant's life processes. Oxygen is released into the air as a by-product.

Respiration

To liberate the energy in the glucose produced by photosynthesis, it must be oxidised (i.e. combined with oxygen) and re-converted into its original components of water and carbon dioxide in various complex processes constituting the plant's "metabolism". Oxygen from the air is carried to the cells through a system of breathing pores and air spaces which permit air to circulate throughout the plant. For this, cells require a continuous supply of oxygen, so that a net intake of oxygen by day alternates with a net output of oxygen by night when photosynthesis ceases.

Unlike photosynthesis, which happens naturally only in daylight and in the green parts of plants, respiration (i.e. breathing) in animals goes on all the time in all the living cells. Thus animals, including human beings, produce carbon dioxide by day and night. Eight billion humans produce quite a lot of carbon dioxide whether or not they travel by air, ride in gas-guzzlers, heat their houses with hydrocarbons, or otherwise generate heat in industrial or engineering Processes.

Transpiration

A plant's leaves obtain carbon dioxide from the air. Large quantities of water are sucked up from the soil by the plant's roots and moved through the plant to the leaves, where water vapour escapes through the stomata. This process is known as transpiration. The water supplies the plant with small quantities of various dissolved minerals from the soil, e.g., compounds of nitrogen, sulphur, and phosphorus, which the plant uses to synthesise proteins. Although all living things can synthesise proteins from amino acids, only plants can synthesise amino acids from carbohydrates. Thus all living things depend on plants, and therefore ultimately on carbon dioxide, for supply of both sugars and amino acids.

Irony

There is something ironic in the fact that supposedly "green" policies seek to deprive plants of their carbon dioxide.

In From Eros to Gaia (1992), Freeman Dyson points out that carbon dioxide molecules are rare in the atmosphere and are therefore hard for a plant to catch. The only way a plant can catch a carbon dioxide molecule is to keep open the little stomata or pores in its leaves, and wait for the occasional carbon dioxide molecule to blunder in. But the air inside the stomata is saturated with water vapour. On the average, about two hundred water molecules will stumble out of the hole for every carbon dioxide molecule that stumbles in. When the carbon dioxide concentration in the air rises, the plant can either keep its stomata open as before and increase photosynthesis, or close the stomata a little to reduce the loss of water while maintaining the same rate of food production.

I heard on the radio recently that a thousand tons of water is required to produce one ton of grain. We may deduce that an atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide could save water. In any case, it makes sense for countries which are short of water to import all the grain they require.

I hope I have now said enough to persuade the thoughtful reader that the large-scale economy of life on Planet Earth is highly complex, and that consideration should be given to the possibility that political attempts to focus attention on "greenhouse gases" may be intended chiefly to distract attention from the really significant manner in which humanity contributes to a "global warming" which politicians can do nothing about.

Capital Expenditure

Plants store up solar energy in the form of carbohydrates, i.e. compounds of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Animals eat plants. Plant and animal bodies which are not eaten accumulate in the soil. They get buried deeper and deeper as time goes by, and their carbohydrate constituents are gradually "reduced" (i.e. their oxygen content is removed) and they are gradually converted under pressure into hydrocarbons peat, coal, oil, methane, etc. These "fossil fuels" represent the Earth's store of solar radiation (i.e. heat from the Sun) which has been accumulating in the Earth's crust over many millions of years.

The metabolic processes which occur naturally in living plants and animals involve the combination of carbohydrates with oxygen from the air to produce carbon dioxide, water vapour, and the heat which primarily distinguishes living bodies from dead ones. Burning, i.e., direct oxidisation of plants and animals, dead or alive, also produces carbon dioxide, water vapour, and heat. Whichever route is taken, the carbon dioxide just goes round and round in the cycle.

Man's control over fire or, more particularly, the heat associated with it, has for millennia been seen as perhaps his most significant achievement. It has certainly given man an advantage over all other living creatures on Earth. Now it can be seen that inconsiderate exploitation of this advantage has produced an uncontrolled explosion in the human population. It should therefore be easy to see that man's only significant contribution to accelerating the rate of global warming is the prodigal rate at which the Earth's energy capital in the form of hydrocarbons is being turned into heat for the immediate convenience of far too many billions of human individuals. Fuels representing countless millions of years' worth of natural "global warming" are being burnt in stoves, furnaces, bonfires, engines, crematoria, and electricity generating stations. Thus enormous quantities of heat stored over countless millennia are being released into the atmosphere in the space of a few short centuries. No wonder the mean temperature of the lower atmosphere is increasing!

The Great Modern Myth

Politicians and others who rely on "economic growth" as the answer to every problem deliberately ignore the fact that "economic growth" is inseparable from increase in the human population of the Earth and a corresponding increase in the rate of consumption of "raw" materials, the Earth's store of which is by no means infinite. In a desperate attempt to postpone the inevitable, they have invented the ingenious pseudo-scientific myth of "greenhouse gases" and have arbitrarily selected "carbon dioxide emissions" as being the principal mechanism through which humans contribute to warming the atmosphere. On the basis of this myth, they have invented the pseudo-economic notion of "carbon trading" as being an effective antidote to the problem. Together, these fancies enable them to raise new taxes and increase old ones in order to "control carbon emissions" and so "combat global warming". This will, of course, do nothing to reduce global warming because it's heat that does that does the warming, not the carbon dioxide. However, the taxes will come in handy for the fraudulent purchase of unthinking votes until such time as even politicians can no longer talk themselves out of trouble.

Now suppose that you live in an environment in which fossil fuels are no longer available, but that an ample supply of electricity is generated through windmills, water-mills, treadmills, nuclear power, or any other means that does not directly produce "carbon dioxide emissions" other than those in your breath. Will it not still be the case that whenever you switch on any electrically operated appliance a lamp, fire, television set, refrigerator, vehicle, or anything else you can imagine it will produce heat which will inevitably find its way into the atmosphere and warm it up? And will it not also be the case that if the only form of Earthly life that uses electrical appliances goes on increasing to ten, twenty, thirty, etc., billions and continues to use such appliances, the temperature of the atmosphere will continue to rise, "carbon trading" notwithstanding? And will there not eventually come a time when the Earth is so encumbered with humans that it will no longer be able to provide them with life-sustaining food and clean water?

Do you know of any politician who will readily advocate, let alone implement, the genuine population-reducing policies that are necessary to stave off this otherwise inevitable catastrophe?

In the United Kingdom, such policies entail the abandonment of all manner of welfare "benefits", including pensions, "family allowances", the National Health Service, and state schools, as well as "oversees aid". Consequently, many children would not be born and many more would die in infancy. Large numbers of sick, disabled, old, lazy, and otherwise non-viable people would no longer be artificially kept alive. Humans would have to survive on the same basis as other animals. A proportion of healthy, energetic, enterprising, and co-operative individuals would survive; their descendants would eventually thrive without having to pay taxes, and their numbers would be limited chiefly by local availability of food, water, and shelter from the elements. Scroungers, layabouts, vandals, and other antisocial elements would succumb to hard times. Life expectancy for the healthy and industrious might or might not be reduced, but life itself would be less artificial and therefore more meaningful. The wheel of fortune would continue to turn....

But as it is unlikely that politicians will ever knowingly set people free to look after themselves as best they may, what can we look forward to?

I can see nothing but an uncomfortably over-crowded world of ever-increasing taxation as the ever-diminishing proportion of economically-active people are forced to sustain breath in individuals whose sole contribution to the global economy is the conversion of food and oxygen into carbon dioxide and heat. As costs of scarce commodities keep rising and as tensions between individuals and states increase, it does not take much imagination to foresee political emphasis rapidly changing from sentimental welfare to savage warfare and population destruction being financed by the very taxation which was supposed to be life-enhancing.

Natural Control

Despite the arrogance of people with an exaggerated sense of their own importance, Mother Nature is still in overall control. She is very patient with her children; but there comes a time when she calls "stop!" There will, in the not-very-distant future, come a time when the Earth's accumulated fossil fuel capital runs out. Man will then have lost much of his advantage over other living species. Childish dreams of enjoying an ever-longer life of ease and comfort will have to be reined in.

In an essay entitled The Good Earth Is Dying published in Der Spiegel in 1971, Isaac Asimov calculated that if the rate of consumption of energy then prevailing in the United States were to apply everywhere on Earth, the sustainable human population of the globe would be a mere five hundred millions i.e. considerably less than 10% of the present total.

Energy distribution costs are already rising all over the globe. Now that the production of oil and gas from under the North Sea is rapidly dwindling, the financially poorest people in the United Kingdom are finding it increasingly difficult to pay for the imported energy they need to keep themselves warm. The cost of food is rising as agricultural resources are increasingly diverted from food production to generation of so-called "bio-fuels". No matter how the climate may change, there is little possibility that the "green" energy available to such a small part of the Earth's surface will be sufficient to feed, warm, and provide working power for a population of anything like the current 60 millions. As prices rise, the relatively poor people (who by virtue of their numbers make the greatest aggregate contribution to taxation) will find it ever more difficult to feed, house, and clothe themselves and their families. Even without any catastrophe such as nuclear war, we must expect a drastic reduction in the UK population to begin quite soon. This will, of course, reduce traffic congestion, alleviate the housing shortage, and solve the debt crisis but only for those intelligent, energetic, far-sighted individuals who contrive to survive.

The word "global" implies that a similar fate awaits the rest of the world.

I heard on the radio recently that life expectancy in Russia is already falling. How do you see things from the point of view of your own part of the world? If you have not already done so, I respectfully suggest you now read Looking Backwards and Forwards.

Postscript

For a thoroughly researched survey of how genuine science can be perverted by political interests, please see The Real Global Warming Disaster by Christopher Booker, published by the Continuum International Publishing Group (www.continuumbooks.com) in 2009.