The great Tom Wolfe astutely defined a cult as a religion with no political power. Wolfe’s observation resonates today when it comes to climate change. What was once a cult has now become the official religion of academia, government bureaucracy, rent-seeking corporations, and the Left. Just like Galileo who dared to challenge the Catholic Church’s official scientific consensus of the sun revolving around the Earth, those brave enough to question aspects of the climate change credo are immediately labeled as deniers, akin to heretics in the temple, risking banishment.
The primary challenge with rationally assessing the topic of climate change is that a very complex set of discrete issues has been boiled down to a neat, simple, universal, and erroneous view of political convenience. For a rational person to seriously reason through climate change issues, one must unpackage the singular, simple rhetoric into component pieces that, once properly assessed and sequenced, can build views anchored in science, data, and fact.
Query #1: Is climate change occurring?
Undoubtedly, the answer is ‘yes.’ Climate change has been a reality since Earth had a climate. Warming periods, cooling periods, Ice Ages, and widespread droughts have been occurring for millions of years and before humans appeared on the scene. Global climate change and trends in regional climates have been, and will remain, a reality.
Query #2: Can future climate change and its effects be accurately modeled?
Attempts to accurately predict climate have been abject failures. If the poor success rates of climate modelers were posted by a surgeon, attorney, or professional sports coach, all would be fired for incompetence. The failure is not from lack of effort or poor scientific acumen, although Climategate exposed how some in the racket of subsidy and government largesse are more than willing to play fast and loose with the scientific method.
The reason models have proven unreliable is they are attempting to simulate and predict the most complex fluid flow system ever: global climate.
The most advanced tools and techniques in meteorology struggle to accurately predict a hurricane path three days out, whether it is going to snow next week, and if the upcoming summer will be unusually hot or mild. What makes one think we would be able to accurately predict global temperatures fifty years out?
Anyone who states models can accurately predict future climate metrics (temperature, storm severity, etc.) is either uninformed or has a hidden agenda.
Query #3: Is human activity increasing the global carbon dioxide level?
Like our first question, the answer here is clearly, ‘yes.’ We know with certainty that since mankind harnessed the power of the carbon atom, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels increased from about 200 parts-per-million (ppm) to about 400 ppm. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will continue to grow as nations and economies further develop. Coincidentally, we should celebrate the rise in carbon dioxide levels because it brought higher life expectancies, lower infant mortality rates, and improved individual rights for billions of people. Carbon has driven, and continues to drive, quality of life on the third rock from the sun.
Query #4: Are increased carbon dioxide concentrations materially impacting the climate and global temperature?
This is the question that is least understood by the public and is most suspect to distortion and abuse by the leaders of the religion. The key phrase here is ‘parts per million,’ or ppm. People don’t understand the context of 200 ppm doubling to 400 ppm, because they have been instructed for decades to exclusively focus on the 200 and the 400, and to ignore the ‘ppm.’ A helpful analogy will illustrate the flaw in ignoring the ‘ppm’ part.
Imagine a Pennsylvania college football stadium that holds 100,000 fans on gameday when Penn State is playing Ohio State (sadly, it’s hard to picture that in the age of pandemic). A 200-ppm level of Ohio State fans (carbon dioxide) in the crowd of 100,000 (atmosphere) would be equivalent to 20 fans wearing Ohio State jerseys versus 99,980 wearing Penn State jerseys. If the concentration of Ohio State fans in the crowd doubled to 400 ppm, it would mean the number of fans wearing Ohio State gear went from 20 to 40, and the number of fans wearing Nittany Lion gear declined from 99,980 to 99,960. Clearly, the nature of that crowd did not change in any material sense, despite the concentration of Ohio State fans doubling.
A doubling of trace amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide, measured in the parts per million and over hundreds of years since the Industrial Revolution, is not going to materially change climate or global temperature. Instead, it is going to have a very small, perhaps unmeasurable, impact on climate. Climate change is a reality. But simple math shows increases in trace levels of carbon dioxide, from 0.02% (200 ppm) to 0.04% (400 ppm) of the atmosphere, due to human industry and energy consumption are not the major, rate-setting driver.
Query #5: Are wind and solar renewable forms of energy?
It’s an article of faith in the climate change religion that renewable energy exists, it is the global savior from climate change, and it is best exemplified by windmills and solar panels. Such beliefs defy science and reality. Laws of thermodynamics instruct us that there is no form of truly renewable energy. Worse yet, windmills and solar panels as forms of electricity generation at scale represent massive carbon footprints that likely exceed the carbon footprint of natural gas-derived electricity. Life-cycle visualization of what it takes for renewables to provide electricity at scale helps illustrate the reality.
If, say, western Pennsylvania needed to add 650 MW of baseload electricity generation, doing so with windmills would have a massive life-cycle carbon footprint.
- Nearly 300 large turbines/towers would be needed for a capacity of 650 MW (compared to a compact combined cycle array for natural gas).
- The materials needed to construct the wind turbines must be mined and processed, likely in places like Mongolia where the resources are located, using carbon to do so while massively scarring the surface where the deposits are.
- The components must be constructed, likely in places like China, in factories powered by carbon. The components then need shipped here, using carbon to power the trains, vessels, trucks, and planes.
- Windmills in places like Pennsylvania only work on ridge lines, meaning wide swaths of trees must be felled to clear pads and right of ways for transmission lines, resulting in visible scars on scenic areas and another big contribution to carbon footprint.
- Concrete must be poured for pads and miles of new transmission lines must be run to link the hundreds of turbines to the grid, consuming yet more carbon.
Finally, you need backup generation for when the wind is not blowing, which is most likely going to be carbon-based natural gas or coal. To top it off, much of this cycle needs repeated in about seven years when the turbines need replaced due to age (turbine disposal has its own carbon footprint).
A legitimate scoring of the life-cycle carbon ledger for wind shows it can suffer a much larger carbon footprint than natural gas-fired generation. The same conclusion would hold for solar, perhaps worse in places like Pennsylvania since the sun doesn’t shine as much as the wind blows.
Be wary of those who tout renewable energy and how the carbon footprints of wind and solar are zero, or close to it. Most likely they are angling for subsidies or political favor. They are not speaking from a position of scientific authority.
Query #6: Is climate change the biggest threat facing us today?
Climate change, whether caused by rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere or not, is always going to pose a risk to human health. Hurricanes destroy and drought kills. Mother Nature for millennia has proven to be a force to be reckoned with. But climate change is not even close to the top threats to our quality of life today.
Disease, as the past year of pandemic has demonstrated, is a much bigger threat to humans. Violent crime, particularly in large cities, is a bigger risk to urbanites than what the polar ice caps are doing. Corrupt government, the rise of socialism, and a broken public education system should worry Americans more than rising sea levels. Young adults in the developed world face a bigger safety risk from driving than climate change while young adults in the developing world are more at risk from contaminated water than carbon dioxide. Whatever twists and turns the climate may take over the years, have confidence that technology will allow humans to adapt to it.
Final query: What to think?
There are discrete issues that converge into the climate change discussion. The unpackaging of the cult/religion credo reveals logic and truth. Climate change has always and will always occur. Models forecasting the complexity of future climate have proven to be inaccurate.
Human activity since the Industrial Revolution has doubled carbon dioxide atmospheric concentration and may continue to increase it. However, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a trace amount, and its doubling over the past couple hundred years has not materially altered the climate.
There is no such thing as truly renewable energy. Wind and solar power are incredibly carbon intensive forms of electricity generation when an honest life-cycle assessment is performed. Although climate always will have the potential to harm or kill, there are much larger and more looming threats to the human condition at our doorstep today.
The Latin origin of the word ‘science’ derives from ‘knowledge.’ History’s greatest scientists did not trust other scientists; the scientific method and human progress rely on healthy skepticism of the scientific consensus. Don’t fear being labeled a denier, called a skeptic, or challenging the scientific/political consensus. Think of Galileo, Einstein, and Curie.