Published by paulmacrae on 25 Jun 2014 at 06:08 pm
The following is an opinion article sent to the Victoria Times Colonist on March 14, 2014. It was initially rejected by the TC’s editorial page editors (as have all my opeds over the past few years, even though I used to work there on the editorial page), then accepted, a month later, by the editor. By that time the issue was stale and I didn’t resubmit. I’m told the TC is now more willing to accept opinion articles from climate skeptics than it has been in the past, and I hope skeptics will begin to submit opinion articles critical of the “consensus”.
A student-led open letter to the University of Victoria is asking the university to divest itself of its fossil-fuel investments. “The science is clear,” the letter says. “Anthropogenic carbon emissions are causing rapid climate change worldwide.”
This is a bad idea for many reasons, but here are four reasons why the university should reject this proposal.
1. For a start, the student letter is based on inaccurate information. “Rapid climate change” is currently not happening worldwide, and hasn’t for at least the past 15 years. Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) acknowledges the reduced rate of warming in its latest report: “The rate of warming over the past 15 years (1998–2012; 0.05°C per decade) … is smaller than the rate calculated since 1951 (1951–2012; 0.12 °C per decade).”
That is, the actual, observed warming over the past 15 years, far from being “rapid,” is less than half of the warming trend from 1951. And 0.05°C of warming is so small it can only be detected by instruments.
‘Science’ is far from ‘clear’
2. A second reason for ignoring the anti-fossil-fuels petition: the recent non-warming shows the “science” on human-caused catastrophic global warming is far from “clear.”
Climate fears are primarily based on computer models. But as a recent paper by a UVic climate research team noted: “Recent observed global warming is significantly less than that simulated by climate models.” See Figure 1.
How much less? As noted above, even the IPCC admits the actual temperature increase over the past 15 years has only been about 0.05°C per decade. The average increase predicted by the climate models is 0.3°C per decade. The predicted temperature increase is six times greater than the actual temperature increase over the past decade and a half.
Carbon dioxide levels have increased steadily over the past few decades, largely due to human influences. But warming has not kept pace with the model predictions. If the “science” was as “clear” as the students believe, climatologists would not have set the sensitivity of temperature to CO2 increases much too high in their models.
The students worry that “catastrophic climate disruption will take place if global average temperature exceeds 2°C. To prevent warming beyond this threshold, two-thirds of the oil, coal, and gas in proven fossil fuel reserves must remain unburned.”
However, a 2013 UVic research paper estimated that we would have to burn 10 times more carbon dioxide than exists on the planet to create a runaway greenhouse. We aren’t going to “burn up” due to fossil fuel emissions, as some environmentalists (including the UVic students) believe.
Some warming would be good, not bad
3. A third reason why UVic should not to divest itself of its fossil-fuel stocks: although carbon emissions haven’t had the warming effect the students claim, a bit of extra planetary warming would probably be a good thing.
Our planet is currently in an ice age, the coldest it’s been in 250 million years. For the past million years Earth has been warming and cooling in 100,000-year cycles: about 80,000 years of cooling, when the glaciers descend and cover much of the northern half of the planet, and about 20,000 years of warming, when the glaciers retreat.
We are currently well past the half-way mark of the current warm cycle, the Holocene. In fact, for the past 8,000 years, the planet has been cooling, not warming. What we should fear is a return of the glaciers, not a degree or two of warming. If additional CO2 delays the return of a runaway cooling, we should be grateful.
Carbon curbs will damage the economy
4. Finally, drastic curbs on the use of fossil-fuels would have very damaging effects on the Canadian and global economies. Most politicians know this, which is why they talk about curbing emissions but do very little about it. Politicians don’t stay in office by lowering the standard of living of the voters.
At the moment we don’t have alternative energies that can provide the power we need at a cost that won’t damage the world’s economies, especially as nations like India and China try to create a better standard of living for their people.
The paradox is that if fossil fuels are the environmental problem, they are also the solution. Once nations become wealthy, they can afford the huge costs of protecting the environment. But if we deliberately make ourselves poorer by draconian anti-carbon measures, our economies will suffer—and so will the environment.
UVic will also suffer, by the way, if the students have their way. The university has been cutting costs over the past few years, offering fewer courses to larger and larger classes. Impoverishing our economy through anti-carbon measures will mean less funding from government, reduced income from the university’s investments, higher tuition fees and lower-quality education for students.
It’s a pity that the students presenting this petition are not better informed about the real state of climate change today. We are not in a period of “rapid warming,” but very little warming. The science of climate change is far from “clear,” as shown by the climate models’ poor record of prediction over the past decade and a half.
There is no danger of a runaway greenhouse, according to UVic climatologists’ own research. And, finally, only a fossil-fuel economy can give us the wealth we need to adapt to whatever warming might occur, while continuing to protect the environment. I’m much less optimistic about how we will cope with a return of the glaciers.
UVic should base its investment decisions on facts, not global warming misinformation that claims “rapid warming” when there has been almost no warming for more than 15 years.
1. IPCC Fifth Report, Summary for Policymakers, p. 3.
2. John C. Fyfe et al. “Climate models vs actual climate.” Nature Climae Change, September 2013.
3. The latest IPCC report, AR5, puts the range of warming over the next century at between 1.4 and 4.5 °C. The average is about 3°C.
4. Colin Goldblatt, et al. “Low simulated radiation limit for runaway greenhouse climates.” Nature Geoscience, July 28, 2013. The “10 times” figure appears in the University of Victoria’s website summary of the paper. The UVic page can be seen on my website.