Sixteenth Century Issues Revisited

Author: Robert D. Brinsmead

August 2008



“Nothing is so fervently believed as that which is not known.” – Montaigne

The claim that human behavior is the main cause of climate change is called anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Although it has never been proven by any hard scientific evidence like germ theory, atomic theory or the theory of relativity, AGW is widely believed and sometimes defended with the kind of passion that was once used to defend articles of the Christian faith.

AGW doubters are treated like heretics and lampooned for being “pre-Copernican Flat Earthers.” Now that the AGW apologists have reminded us of the pre-Copernican world, we have to say that they have made a valid point in one respect: the current climate change debate does look astonishingly like a re-run of the battle of ideas in the sixteenth century.

At the dawn of the 16th century, Western civilization was locked into Ptolemy’s 2,000- year old cosmology that put the earth at the centre of the universe. Complementing this puny, earth-centred cosmology, was a worldview based on the Genesis story of creation, the Fall of man and
Paradise lost. As interpreted in Augustine’s doctrine of original sin, it meant that mankind was wholly responsible for the human condition and the deteriorating state of the earth.

This kind of belief created a lot of self-induced guilt. Whenever the tension of guilt is unresolved, people are easily manipulated or motivated to do wacky and even dangerous things. In Medieval times they often blamed the Jews, witches or heretics in their midst for calamitous events. To offset a guilty conscience, people did bizarre and eccentric things called supererogatory works.

The breaking point was reached when the Church began to sell indulgences to people in lieu of requiring them to change their sinful ways. When a monk nailed a protest against the sale of indulgences on the door of the church, it started a revolution that liberated the Christian West from a lot of its chronic guilt and navel gazing.

About the same time a complementary scientific revolution was afoot. Against the consensus worldview of their day, and in the face of extreme opposition from the Church, Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler began to dismantle Ptolemy’s earth-centred universe by advancing a new, helio-centric cosmology. The new cosmology eventually prevailed, and this led on to the Enlightenment, then to the age of science and a new evolutionary geology and biology.

The logical end of the Copernican revolution is the universe of the Big Bang. Thanks to the pioneering cosmology of these 16th century astronomers, we can now contemplate a universe comprising billions of galaxies, each having billions of suns in whose unimaginable supernovae heat was forged the elements found in a speck of star dust that became planet earth.

Against this background of planet earth’s rather inauspicious place in this vast universe of space/time, we now re-focus on the current debate about climate change. It appears that the mainstream view among scientists, politicians, churchmen, environmentalists and school teachers (especially) is that climate change today is for the most part caused by human behaviour. It is said that industrial development, economic growth and the pursuit of better living standards now threatens to destroy this planet with global warming. According to this view of things, humans have the power to stop climate change by changing their behaviour.

On all sides it is acknowledged that the climate system is incredibly complex. There are also a lot of vast things that influence climate - like the vastness of the oceans, glaciers, polar ice, water vapour and clouds carrying billions of tons of water from place to place. Then beyond this earth, our climate is influenced by the vast energy of the sun with its solar flares and solar winds. Then there are the variations in earth’s orbit around the sun as well as the well known variations in the tilt of its axis, all playing a vital role in climate change. Last but not least, cosmic rays are high-energy particles that stream out from exploding supernovae. It has been estimated that a 10% change in the number of cosmic rays penetrating the earth can change global temperatures by 1.3%.

It seems that the AGW school has pushed to one side all these big ticket influences on the climate, both terrestrial and celestial, to focus almost exclusively of one thing – a relatively minor greenhouse gas called carbon dioxide – CO2.

Carbon forms more compounds than all other elements combined. All life is carbon based. As far as all plant life is concerned – from the microscopic algae that live in the sea to the giant trees that grow in the Amazon rainforest - CO2 is the gas of life. As Roger Revelle, the grand father of our modern greenhouse science and also the famed mentor of Al Gore, said: “Increased CO2 in the air acts like a fertilizer for plants ... you get more plant growth. Increasing CO2 levels also affect water transpiration, causing plants to close their pores and sweat less. That means plants will be able to grow in drier climates.”

A legion of recent experiments have demonstrated beyond any shadow of doubt that a CO2 enriched atmosphere promotes plant growth, increases agricultural production and promotes a greener planet. CO2 enrichment also ameliorates drought by enabling plants to survive with less water and in harsher conditions. The evidence is also written large in the geological record how a lusher earth flourished when the atmosphere was enriched with much more C02 than it enjoys today, and without causing any harm to earth’s biodiversity.

One would think that with all this evidence for CO2’s greening benefits, the Greens and their fellow environmental travellers would be talking CO2 up instead of talking it down, or worse, being paranoid about it. The bottom line is that they are biased against something else far more passionately than they are biased toward the greening of the earth. They are biased against economic growth, industrial activity and human technology, and they hate capitalism; but most of all, they are biased against people.

From the time environmentalism became an identifiable movement about 1970 – which makes it almost 40 years old – it has predicted one apocalyptic disaster after another. First it was the apocalyptic scare of mass starvation. This was followed by the scare about running out of resources such as oil, zinc, copper, lead and natural gas. Then there was the apocalyptic scare about a new ice age that was supposed to be signalled by a few years of global cooling in the 1970’s. Then came the new apocalyptic scare about acid rain. When that scare petered out, along came the scare about the hole in the ozone. Today, the mother of all environmental scares is global warming.

To understand the agenda behind raising one scare after another for the last 40 years, we need only look at what is common to every one of them. In every case the real enemy is not the threat of starvation, or running out of resources, or acid rain, or the hole in the ozone, or climate change. It has been a 40-year beat-up on the detrimental environmental impacts of human activity. It’s been like listening to the mantra of the pigs in George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “Four legs good; two legs bad.”

There has never been a scintilla of hard scientific evidence to prove that CO2 is a major driver of climate change. Then why do advocates of AGW ignore all the big ticket influences on climate change to concentrate on CO2? Elementary, Mr. Watson! CO2 just happens to be an industrial gas that stands as a proxy for human activity.

Let’s crunch a few straightforward numbers here to illustrate how the whole AGW exercise is like trying to burn down the house to get the mouse. Greenhouse gas – so necessary to prevent temperature extremes making life on earth impossible – comprises about 1% of the earth’s atmosphere. Water vapour makes up 95% of all greenhouse gases; CO2 accounts for only 3.6%. 3.6% of 1% = 0.036% of the atmosphere or 360 parts per million. (Direct measurements indicate it could be closer to 380 ppm) Human activity produces about 3% of all CO2 emissions. Micro-organisms, termites, cows, decomposing vegetation, respiring plants, volcanos, the oceans (more than anything else) and other natural processes produce about 97% of the CO2 emissions. The total human CO2 contribution to the atmosphere is therefore 3% of 0.036% = 0.00108% or about 10.8 ppm. (In the analogy of dollar terms, the human-made CO2 would be like 3 to 4 cents in every $2,600)

In terms of the total human CO2 contribution to all greenhouse gases, this is 3% of 3.6% = 0.108%, or a little more than one part in one thousand.

What these numbers mean is that the AGW advocates are focusing almost their entire attention on a very tiny 0.00108% of the atmosphere or a tiny 0.108% of all greenhouse gases. In the words of one of
America's greatest climatologists, Martin Hertzberg, “it’s the equivalent of a few farts in a hurricane.”

In defence of the AGW theory, its proponents often respond by saying that it only takes a little poison to be dangerous, or to throw a fragile climate system out of balance. But we are not talking about something that is a poisonous gas. We are not even talking about a trace element that is essential to life. We are talking about something that is the basic stuff of every living thing, whether plant or animal, something as essential to life as oxygen and water. Carbon and carbon compounds (the most ubiquitous compounds on earth) saturate the earth, the oceans (which contains 50 times more CO2 than the atmosphere), and the entire biosphere itself. The only way this carbon can start building plants upon which the entire animal kingdom, including humans, depends on for food, is to get into the air as CO2.

Let us now look at the arguments on the other side of this climate change debate. Just as it was in the 16th century, it is the cosmologists and the solar physicists of our day who are set to dismantle this AGW worldview that once again puts man at the centre of what is really a great solar and galactic drama. Included among these big-picture scientists are the geologists who, looking at the big picture geological record, say that both the degree and the rate of climate change today is entirely within the range of natural climate variability. The cosmologists and solar physicists generally subscribe to the view that the oscillation of the climate from ice ages to warm inter-glacial is determined by variations in the sun’s radiance and magnetic fields, sun spots and solar winds, the well-known variations of the earth’s elliptical path around the sun, and variations in the tilt in the axis of the earth. Then on our solar system’s 143 million-year journey from one arm of our Milky Way Galaxy to the next, it encounters showers of cosmic rays from supernovae. When they penetrate the earth they play an important role in the formation of cooling clouds. (See Henrik Svensmark and Nigel Calder, The Chilling Stars).

Put down your glasses! The big-picture scientists, standing in the tradition of Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo, are bound to win this debate with those who once again think human activity on this earth occupies the centre stage. There are no prizes here for guessing which side of the climate change debate is looking more and more like the pre-Copernican Flat Earthers!

Politicians and governments who talk about invoking policies to stop climate change (beware the ultra-expensive ones that could destroy our economy and way of life) are playing the role of a 21st century King Canute. It would be just as easy to stop the incoming and outgoing tide.

The prince of climatologists, Richard Lindzen, recently said that the current climate change hysteria has become “a tsunami of insanity.” Humans are being blamed again for everything from the disappearing green frogs to great weather disasters that have always stalked the earth. People are made to feel guilty when the bees mysteriously die, the migratory birds return too early or the coral reef shows signs of bleaching. People are being made to feel guilty about eating food that has generated too many CO2 emissions by long distance transport, flying to holiday destinations, driving to work, turning on an air conditioner, leaving on a light or even for using too much toilet paper – unless they have bought some carbon credits to offset their sinful carbon emissions.

The issue of buying carbon offsets or credits is astonishingly like the scandal of the buying of indulgences in the 16th century all over again. And like those 16th century indulgences, the whole fraudulent scandal of trading carbon offsets and buying carbon credits is driven by human guilt and its manipulation as a means of human control. The world needs another Martin Luther to break the strangle-hold of these 21st century carbon indulgences.




Web Published – August 2008

Copyright © 2008 Robert D. Brinsmead