The fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is due in complete form in a few months, but the “Summary for Policymakers” was released last week. The general consensus from environmental activists, along with the media and nearly all politicians can be summed up as this: “The ‘question mark’ has been removed; fossil fuels are causing global warming.”
|Corn for Ethanol – uncritical support for
biofuel may win the Iowa primary, but may
also destroy the planet via deforestation
There are many questions raised by this report and the reactions to it. For example, why don’t any commentators note that the report has pretty much dismissed the danger of sea level rise – since the new projection is one foot per century?
The biggest question, however, is why has the IPCC 2007 summary minimized or ignored the impact other factors may have on global warming – factors that have nothing to do with burning of fossil fuel?
The IPCC report claims that up to 27.5 GtCO2 per year originate from burning of fossil fuel, and up to 9.9 GtCO2 per year originate from “land use change.” This suggests that up to 26% of anthropogenic CO2 comes from “land use change,” which one may assume is associated with deforestation. And it is fair to say that the primary driver of deforestation today is the mad rush to establish biofuel plantations where tropical rainforests currently stand.
What also isn’t mentioned in the IPCC summary is that deforestation not only releases of vast quantities of CO2 as trees are removed and burned, but also causes a permanent loss of CO2 uptake capacity. Tropical forests, which flourish year-round, are far more efficient at removing CO2 from the atmosphere than the more extensive forests in the northern latitudes. Also receiving scant mention in the IPCC summary is the “surface albedo” and “cloud albedo” effects, which cool the planet, and which are directly undermined by deforestation, especially in the tropics. Worldwide, tropical rainforest area has declined from over 7 million square miles to less than 3 million square miles – a decline equivalent to nearly 10% of the land surface of the planet.
Also given short shrift in the IPCC summary is the impact of volcanic aerosols on radiative forcing (initial cooling from particulates, long-term warming from gas emissions), which are not included “due to their episodic nature.” In general, the role of non-anthropogenic CO2 is not given much attention by the IPCC, in spite of the fact that the numbers are far, far greater.
If you doubt the role non-anthropogenic CO2 emissions have on atmospheric CO2 levels, there is an interesting study entitled “Why Does Atmospheric CO2 Rise,” authored by Jan Schloerer at the University of Ulm. It remains the best source we can find to reveal global estimates of CO2 emissions, uptake, and reservoirs. In this study, Schloerer states “Natural CO2 fluxes into and out of the atmosphere exceed the human contribution by more than an order of magnitude.”
If you go to section 3.2 of Schloerer’s study, you will see that there are 38,000 gigatons of CO2 sequestered in the deep ocean. As the earth warms, this CO2 is released. The magnitude of this release, impossible to monitor, easily dwarfs whatever quantity of CO2 we can emit using fossil fuel.
The momentum building to do whatever it takes to curtail fossil fuel emissions is ludicrous for a variety of reasons – that deforestation (now in full swing again in order to grow “carbon neutral biofuel) may be the actual cause of any alleged global warming is only one of them. Another is the futility of quickly ending our dependence on fossil fuel. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, human civilization currently consumes just about 500 quadrillion BTUs of energy each year – and 78% of that energy comes from coal, oil, and natural gas.
Even with greatly improved “energy intensity,” the growth of the world economy absolutely requires total energy production to rise over the coming decades. If per capita energy consumption on the entire planet were only half what the most energy efficient developed nations currently consume, i.e., if energy intensity on the planet were to improve to twice where it now stands in the best cases, for everyone on earth to have a standard of living equivalent to the average represented by the 30 wealthiest nations, energy production on earth would still have to double (ref. “The Good, the Bad, & the BTU’s”).
While non-fossil fuel energy production worldwide stands at about 100 quadrillion BTU’s per year, or 22% of total production, this is almost exclusively comprised of hydroelectric power, nuclear power, and biofuel. Not only are these power sources problematic to many environmentalists, there are upper bounds to how much more of the world’s energy production they can represent. The remaining renewables, primarily geothermal, photovoltaic and wind power, currently constitute well less than 1% of global energy production.
Fossil fuel is here to stay. And the enemies of fossil fuel, the global warming alarmists, are acquiring power in politics and media that any student of history should find frightening. Their prescriptions so far – banning various forms of energy consumption and condoning massive new rounds of deforestation – may very well do more harm than good. Combatting global warming, should it really be a problem, might begin through initiatives to immediately double the tropical rainforest canopy on earth.