Why You STILL Shouldn't Care About Global Warming

So in last week's article (Forum discussion here) I broke from HTNS tradition by doing a social commentary about global warming fear-mongering. I was debating this on another website and someone pointed out a graph that shows CO2 levels and temperature over the last 600,000 years; the very same graph Al Gore used in his slideshow An Inconvenient Truth. This was shown to me in an effort to persuade me that the two are related. Ironically, I think the graph proves conclusively that CO2 levels do not lead to increased temperature. As such, here is a follow-up article that will be my last word (for now) on global climate change.

I have two points to make in this article. The first is that carbon dioxide, which is necessary for all life on the planet to continue surviving, is not a cause of global climate change. The second thing came about almost by accident: I believe I've managed to prove mathematically that reducing carbon dioxide production will not have any noticeable effect on global temperature. That's right, I think I can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the irrational fear of a naturally occurring process is not a valid reason to stop polluting.

First of all, let's look at the graph. At first glance, it looks like there is a close correlation between carbon dioxide levels and global temperature. Let's take a closer look though, shall we? There are some pieces of that graph that I find highly interesting. I've bolded the ones I think are most important:

  • 320,000 years ago CO2 goes up while temperature goes down. 310,000 years ago, after they've both lowered, CO2 goes up again while temperature continues to drop, and then when CO2 starts going down, the temperature starts going up again
  • 290,000 years ago CO2 goes up while temperature goes down
  • 285,000-275,000 years ago CO2 goes down while temperature goes up
  • 235,000-225,000 years ago CO2 stays stable while temperature goes down, then temperature stays stable while CO2 goes down
  • 195,000 years ago CO2 goes up while temperature remains stable
  • 175,000 years ago temperature goes up while CO2 goes down
  • 160,000-145,000 years ago temperaure remains stable while CO2 fluctuates, ending in CO2 rising as temperature lowers
  • 130,000-110,000 years ago CO2 remains basically constant while temperature drops dramatically
  • 100,000 years ago CO2 rises while temperature drops
  • 75,000 years ago CO2 goes up while temperature drops
  • 70,000 years ago temperature goes up before CO2 goes up
  • 40,000-35,000 years ago temperature dips and returns while CO2 remains constant
  • 25,000 years ago, at the beginning of the current warming trend, temperature goes up as CO2 goes down
  • 5,000 years ago temperature goes down as CO2 goes up
  • over the last thousand years (starting well before industrialization) CO2 has spiked sharply, but the temperature hasn't gone up nearly as quickly

Yes, there is clearly a general pattern in the graph, but if carbon dioxide levels caused global warming then all those instances above would, necessarily, never happen. Lowering CO2 levels would cause temperature to drop, and rising CO2 levels would cause the temperature to increase. Instead, I hypothesize (I've never gotten use that word in conversation before) that carbon dioxide and temperature are instead both being influenced by some third factor that is not accounted for in this graph. It would explain why sometimes one goes up first, but sometimes the other does, without the clear logical inconsistency that comes from claiming that one causes the other.

Now, this is not some crackpot theory I saw on the internet somewhere. I have no source for these observations or this path of reasoning. I am in no way ashamed to say this is a conclusion I came upon all by myself from looking at the data and critically evaluating it, which is the only thing I ask anyone to do when it comes to global climate change.

Of course, given the importance of the climate and our world's ecology, there are people who will say "it doesn't matter if it's not really a cause, we should still do something about it anyway." People like this man, who is a physics professor. That's all well and good, and I support stemming pollution because breathing dirty air sucks, but the sad realization we all must come to is that we just don't have as much influence over the climate as we like to think we do. Ironically, my mathematical proof of this comes from one of the greatest arguments in the other direction I've ever seen:

The effects of greenhouse gasses is cumulative. The more water vapor there is in the atmosphere, the greater the warming effect from trapped radiation from the sun, which leads to more water vapor forming. That means it's perfectly reasonable for temperature to rise more rapidly near the end of a warming trend than the beginning of one, which explains why it seems to be getting hotter faster (though anyone living in Southern Ontario, which is having one of the coldest summers in recent memory, would argue that point with you). This is provable using a large amount of simple math. Those who are not mathematically inclined can skip past the math portion and just get the conclusions from the bottom.

Suppose every x amount of greenhouse gas traps y amount of radiation, and every y amount of radiation releases x/1000 extra greenhouse gas to the atmosphere each year from various sources, including man-made sources. For ease of calculation, let's let y = 1 and x = 1, and every extra x of water vapor = an extra 0.01 degrees C. Let's suppose we're starting at -15 degrees C, just like the average temperature was 18,000 years ago. Each year the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is (1 + 1/1000)^n where n is the number of years gone by. Since x = 0.01 degrees, temperature change will be whatever the resulting value is - 1, multiplied by 0.01. So here are some results after certain years:

Years passedAmount of GasDegrees Temperature Increase
11.0010.00001
101.010.0001
1001.1050.001
5001.6480.0065
10002.7170.0172
20007.3820.0638
300020.0550.1906
5000148.0431.4704
75001801.27918.0128
1000021916.681219.1568
1800065072070.823650720.6908

So the first 5000 years increase the temperature from -15C to -13.5C, but the next 5000 years increase the temperature to 204.2C. Anyone caught in the middle of that second 5000 years would certainly be aware that the planet is getting warmer, but because it's a natural and uncontrollable process there would be nothing they can do about it. That's the same boat we're in, and yes I'm that sure of it. Now suppose that after 7500 years we are able to decrease the amount of added greenhouse gasses by 50%, the amount I believe is targetted for 2015 or something, to x/2000. What happens then?

Years passedAmount of GasDegrees Temperature Increase
75001801.27918.0128
80002312.74423.1274
90003812.59338.1259
100006258.11862.5812
1500076520.584765.2058
18000342812.9303428.1293

Looks promising, right? Almost 160 degrees cooler after 10,000 years is a huge change. There's just one problem: total greenhouse gasses isn't what we're talking about cutting by 50%! CO2 is the gas we're talking about, and even if wikipedia is right about CO2 accounting for 12% of the greenhouse effect as opposed to the 0.12% that was recently claimed, that means the difference between pre-reduction and post-reduction temperatures must be multiplied by 0.12. So that's roughly (219-62) * 0.12 for the total impact of our efforts, which means after 2500 years of 50% reduced CO2 output the total impact is about 18.84 degrees, meaning all we've done is slow the natural process by an average of 0.007536 degrees C/year.

So what about a more practical example then. Let's say the temperature went up last year by about 0.1C due to greenhouse gasses. It didn't, but it's what I've seen claimed in some places, so we'll use it because it's easy to work with. Since the effect of greenhouse gas is still cumulative, the same general formula can be applied with some slight variations: x=1 degree C instead of x = 0.01 degrees C. The current amount of greenhouse gas is still x = 1. The general formula is then (1 + i)^n. Since we know the temperature went up by 0.1C, we can calculate i as follows:

(1 + i)^1 = 1 (status quo) + 0.1 (variation)
    1 + i = 1.1
        i = 0.1

That means our specific formula for this equation is (1 + 0.1)^n, or 1.1^n without our influence, or 1.094^n with our influence lowering total CO2 production by 50%. So how does it stack up?

YearsNo ActionAction
1 year1.11.094
10 years2.5932.456
20 years6.7276.030
30 years17.44914.809
40 years45.25936.366
50 years117.39189.303

Again, it looks helpful, right? There's just one problem: humans can't survive in an environment hotter than about 40C. That means by the time the effect is noticeable and relevant it's already too late, because we're all dead anyway. It'll just take 40 years instead of 37. You can take heart in this though: there has never in the history of the planet been a 100 year temperature increase of 1C or more. Going by the historical records, we'll be in another ice age long before the world is too hot to live in.

So what does it all mean? First of all, it means carbon dioxide is not causing global warming, or at least it is not the main factor, which is exactly opposite to what you keep hearing in the media. One thing you should note from that graph is that it shows where current carbon dioxide levels are (notice how it's 380 parts per million?), but not where current temperature values are. That's because temperature hasn't gone up any faster than it should have. If temperature was up with the carbon dioxide on that graph, the planet would be uninhabitably hot.

The second thing you should take from this is that while we most definitely should cut our levels of pollution, including carbon dioxide, global warming is not the reason to do it, if for no other reason than we couldn't affect it if we wanted to. Man-made CO2 is such a small factor for global warming as to be insignificant, and even if we could somehow eliminate all CO2 production entirely it wouldn't make any noticeable difference until it's already too late.

We should take care of the air because it's easier to breathe clean air than dirty air. We should take care of the water because without clean drinking water we die, and if we keep it clean in the first place we won't have to spend billions of dollars cleaning it after the fact. Pollution sucks, but trying to scare people in to not polluting sucks even more. Are you listening, Mr. Gore?

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