Thank-you for the copy of the letter about Climate change, on which you asked me to comment. The letter was written by John ‘XXX’ to a Newspaper, on an unknown date. As the volume of my comments is greater than originally anticipated I have, not included references to save space. In the event that you need a reference for any particular comment, please ask.
I have included a transcript of John’s letter as Attachment 1. It has a three-point structure.
- JOHN’S LETTER.
1.1 first point – paragraph one:
The letter states that: ‘the crux of manmade CO2 causing climate change rests on being able to explain the thermodynamics of how a reading of (a mere) 0.384% of CO2 in the atmosphere, can change the temperature on Earth so can someone please explain the thermodynamic function.’
The statement is reasonable, but an error needs to be remedied first.
Scientists’ usually express chemical concentrations in the Atmosphere as parts per million (ppm), so, I converted the figure quoted by the writer in percentage terms, into ppm, then compared it with the science.
The scientific fact is that CO2 levels in the atmosphere have risen from 316ppm in 1958 and 414 ppm in 2020. These figures, converted into percentage terms are, 0316% for 1958 and for .0414% for 2020. These calculations indicate that John has made a mistake. The atmospheric CO2 he quotes in percentage terms of 0.384% is ten times greater than the average of the scientific figures over the 62 years period. This can’t be true.
I will assume John made a simple mistake and meant to write, .0384% and not .384%. On this basis his corrected figure then fit comfortably within the range of actual atmospheric CO2 readings over the 62 years, from 1958 to 2020, as shown below.
|EXPRESSED AS PPM
|PPM - CONVERTED TO %
|The historic record 1958
|The historic record 2020
|John’s corrected figures
1.2 second point – paragraph’s two to five.
These paragraphs in John’s letter give examples of extreme historical weather and climate events in Australia and other parts of the world as far back as 1788, correctly implying that climate change is nothing new and was occurring before the advent of industrialization.
1.3 third point - paragraph six.
John then asks the reasonable question: In view of the historical evidence (in 1.2), ‘how are we to believe that climate change has been created by industrialization?’
1.4 Key issues.
The two key issues emerging from John’s letter are: First: ‘how can the thermodynamics of a (mere) .0384 ppm, have such a big effect on the earth’s Climate systems?’ Second: In the light of the historical climate examples, ‘how are we to believe that climate change has been created by industrialization?’
2. FIRST KEY ISSUE:
2.1 Issue and Method
‘How can the thermodynamics of a (mere) .0384 ppm, have such a big effect on the earth’s climate systems?’
I will explain, in thermodynamic terms, how the climate system worked prior to industrialization when it was driven solely by nature and then explain how the climate system, works, now, that is after the effects of industrialization on the climate are considered. A comparison of differences between the two systems should help us understand the role played by industrialization in changing the climate.
2.2 the thermodynamics of the climate system before industrialization.
Prior to industrialization, the climate system was shaped solely by natural events and forces. This kept the average planetary temperature reasonably constant within acceptable limits over the last thousand years, as shown by the graph in Attachment 3. Natural events that can shape the climate system include:
Variations in solar activity.
Changes in the earth’s axial precession and obliquity.
Changes in levels of natural carbon released into the Atmosphere.
Ocean currents and temperature.
Scale of Lava flows.
Release of methane & carbon locked up in the natural permafrost over millions of years.
Meteors hitting the earth.
Climate is the average pattern of weather in specific areas of the Earth over time. Prior to Industrialization, climate resulted from the interaction between natural events and the earths five major components. These components interact with each other and natural forces. The five components are:
a. CRYOSPHERE: The frozen parts of the earth. This component reflects more sunlight than open water and bare ground. The presence or absence of ice and snow, affects heating or cooling over the earth’s surface. It influences the earths energy balance and affects air temperatures, sea-levels, ocean currents and storm patterns.
b. HYDROSPHERE: Water in its various forms, including oceans, lakes, rivers others.
c. ATMOSPHERE: Is the first 10,000 kilometres thick space that surrounds the planet. Like the earth itself, this component, has five identifiable sections within it, namely the:
- Troposphere – is the closest sixteen kms to earth and is where all weather occurs. It contains a range of greenhouse gasses that include:
Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
Water Vapour (in the form of clouds)
Nitrous Oxide (N2O)
Of the carbon-based chemicals, Carbon Dioxide has been the most influential climate wise as there is more of it than there is Methane and Nitrous oxide, plus the fact that. CO2 typically stays in the atmosphere for one hundred years. On the other hand, Methane and Nitrous Oxide, are more potent than Carbon Dioxide and potentially represent a significant future threat to the warming planet, as will be shown later. Water Vapour is the most abundant gas and Ozone is minor.
- Stratosphere – contains the most naturally produced ozone gas where it blocks harmful solar ultra-violet radiation.
- Mesosphere – which protects the earth surface from meteors.
- Thermosphere – is the hottest (up to 2,000degrees c) is fifty times thicker than the Troposphere.
- Exosphere – is the section of the Atmosphere adjacent to space.
d. LITHOSPHERE: The rigid outer part of the earth consisting of the crust and outer mantle
e. BIOSPHERE: The regions of the planet occupied by living organisms.
The natural greenhouse effect, as I will explain, was an important outcome from, the interaction between the natural events and the five components of the Earth.
2.3 The natural greenhouse effect:
The Sun has always powered the Earth’s climate. Energy from the Sun travels through space and warms the Earth. A share of this inward energy is reflected away by the Cryosphere. The remainder reaches the Earth. It has been estimated that about 30% of incoming solar radiation is reflected back into space and 70% is absorbed by and warms the earth. Because the incoming solar energy is short wavelength in nature when measured on the electromagnetic spectrum, it cuts through the atmosphere unimpeded by the carbon gasses, including CO2 residing in the troposphere. The incoming solar energy that was not reflected away, reaches the earth, and as all five climate components consistently interact with and between one another, the Cryosphere shares indirectly, in the remaining incoming solar energy that has reached the Earth.
Once warmed, the earth, like many heated objects, radiates this energy outwards, however, the outgoing radiated energy is technically different to the incoming energy in the sense that it is energy with a long wavelength. This means that it does not have the atmospheric penetrating power of the incoming short wavelength energy. The result is that this outward radiation is impeded in its outward journey by the CO2 and other carbon based, gasses in the troposphere. Some of this outgoing energy is retained in the atmosphere some works its way through the atmosphere and dissipates into space and while some is reflected back to the Earth and warms it.
This process is called, ‘the greenhouse effect’ because it keeps the earth warm, like a normal greenhouse will do in a gardening context. As noted, this process developed through the effects of natural forces on the earth combined with their interaction, with and between, the five climate components, that occurred over a long period of time. The outcome has been to keep the earths average temperature comfortably constant and liveable. Without the natural greenhouse effect the earth would have been a block of ice.
Attachment 2A Illustrates pictorially the forgoing description of the natural Greenhouse effect.
The historical temperature graph covering the last thousand years, in Attachment 3 shows that the ‘nature created greenhouse gas effect’ has kept the planet’s average temperatures reasonably constant between the 10th century and the early 20th century. Constant, average annual world temperatures, does not imply that, there were not extremes of hot or cold periods at specific locations on the planet within the time period covered by the graph, as there clearly were. Such extreme examples include: the European little ice age during medieval times when parts of the earth were extremely cold, and the climate examples of extremely hot climates quoted in John’s letter.
3. SECOND KEY ISSUE: how are we to believe that climate change has been created by industrialization?
3.1 The term, Industrialization, needs to be clarified.
Industrialization has been defined as the period of social and economic change that transformed an agrarian society into an industrial society. That involved an extensive reorganization of an economy for the purpose of manufacturing. Historically industrialization is associated with increased polluting industries heavily dependent on fossil fuels.
The reorganization of the economy had many unintended consequences. As industrial workers' incomes rise, markets for consumer goods and services of all kinds tend to expand and provide a further stimulus to industrial investment and economic growth. Moreover, family structures tend to shift and subdivide and geographically diversify.
Industrialization heralded massive social, political, technical, and commercial change and with it came a change in ethical values. These changes can only occur through people so when we talk of industrialization, we should be aware that whatever else it is seen to be, Industrialization is fundamentally a process driven by people, their, intellect, behavior, and values, and herein lies a key problem fixing the problems underlying climate change in the era of modern humanity. I will say more about this later.
3.2 How industrialization has affected the natural climate process.
The impact of industrialization on the planet’s climate did not occur immediately, because the effect has been cumulative. As the Hockey graph in Attachment 3 shows, the Earth’s temperature did not statistically, start to get observably hotter until into the twentieth century.
Note also that the influence of industrialization on today’s climate has occurred within an already existing climate system, that has been shaped by natural forces. Note, Industrialization has not created a new climate system, as John implies, modern humanity exerts it influence on planetary climate through the pre-existing natural climate system that has existed for a very long time
In order to emphasize this point, to shorten this analysis, and to minimize the explanatory complexities, I will use the following methodology in this section of my letter: First I will assert five propositions which science holds to be true, and label them P1 to P5 below. Second, I will then explain and justify each of them. The outcome should explain how modern humanity is affecting Earths climate:
P1-The average Global temperature is rising: The temperature graph in attachment three shows that the average world temperature has fluctuated within a given range, between the ninth century and the early twentieth century. It does however show a significant upturn in temperatures since then. That is why this graph is often referred to as ‘the Hockey Stick.’
P2-recent Increases in atmospheric CO2 is driving the rising temperatures: As explained in 2.2, Atmospheric CO2 in combination with the natural climate model created the Greenhouse gas effect which has historically kept the planet in a liveable state, over millennia. However, increasing atmospheric (tropospheric) levels of CO2 is now interfering with the natural greenhouse gas effect by impeding the outgoing long wavelength energy escaping into space, and redirecting it back towards the earth where the five components of the planet interact with one another and, spread this energy between themselves and cause the planets average annual temperatures to rise. Note that without the increase in atmospheric CO2 pollution, the outward moving energy escaping into space would continue to do so, and so not then contribute to the planetary warming.
P3-The recent Increase in atmospheric CO2 is from anthropogenic sources: Ice core analysis on which the hockey stick is based, indicated that for 800,000 years up to the Industrial Revolution, the natural atmospheric CO2 was constant. As noted above, pre-industrial, levels of atmospheric CO2 readings fluctuated between 180 ppm to 300 ppm. In 2020 the Atmospheric level of CO2 was 414ppm, an increase of over 70% on the average pre-industrial readings. This increase was caused by human pollution from activities. This is known because there is an identifiable difference between CO2 from natural sources and CO2 generated by human activities.
Natural CO2 is rich in carbon Isotope C13 whereas CO2 generated by human activities is rich in carbon Isotope C12. As the atmospheric ratio of C13 to C12 has been falling since industrialization, this indicates that anthropogenically created CO2 is increasing at the greater rate in the atmosphere than naturally created CO2.
P4 – Industrialization is warming the planet by increasing the warming effect of the naturally created greenhouse gas effect.
The fact that there is an experimentally proven correlation between increased levels of CO2 in a given volume of space and a reduced ability of outgoing longwave radiation to travel through that space, provides strong evidence that supports the fact that increases in atmospheric CO2 is driving planetary warming: First the increased levels of atmospheric carbon in CO2 form, have impeded the journey of the outgoing longwave radiation escaping into space. Second, this initially outgoing energy is turned back and retained within the earth’s environment thus warming the planet. Third, as the recent increases in CO2 have an anthropogenic origin, the current planetary warming is driven by increasing CO2 with an anthropogenic origin. Fourth, industrialization inspired modern day humanity’s behaviour, activities, habits, values, and systems, is therefore adding to the warming of the planet already being kept warm by natural events. Clearly therefore, the current planetary warming is driven by two distinct forces. Natural events on the one hand and modern humanity on the other. Both drivers are now contributing to planetary warming through the natural mechanism of the long standing, namely the natural climate mechanism called the Greenhouse effect.
P5- Natural forces have historically driven the Earth’s climate and now modern humanity is a co contributor:
Although a combined nature/ modern humanity atmospheric CO2 reading of 0.0384% may seem to be minute, in relation to the size of the atmosphere or even the troposphere, one needs to understand the thermodynamics of the greenhouse effect and how this is causing the planet to warm. I trust that this understanding comes from the foregoing explanations.
When measured in ppm, the anthropogenic contribution to atmospheric carbon levels may seem very small. This however is belied by the facts. The activities of Modern humanity produced an estimated 839 billion tonnes of carbon pollution since the beginning of industrialization. That pollution has been spread over the five components of the earth but a majority has polluted the atmosphere. Modern humanity has effectively increased the volume of carbon in the Earth wide greenhouse system created and developed by nature.
To repeat. Compared to pre industrialization times there are now two drivers of the climate system. One is Nature, operating as it has always done, the other is modern humanity as described above. I trust that this narrative has made clear that an atmospheric CO2 reading of a ‘mere’ .0384% CO2, is not so ‘mere’ after all.
Attachment 2B Illustrates pictorially the forgoing verbal description of the Greenhouse effect as influenced by industrialization.
4. FURTHER ISSUES
4.1 What is modern humanity doing to create so much pollution, and what are the risks of continuing with this behaviour?
If you accept the logic of the propositions P1 through to P5 above, you have accepted that notion that the behaviour and activities of modern Humanity is driving the current planetary warming and hence, changing the climate. But what are the human behaviour and activities that are problematic and what further risks and threats does the warming pose to our future?
4.2 Some activities and behaviour of modern humanity that are root causes of planetary warming:
- The use of dirty coal and petroleum products in, transport, production, electricity generation and industry generally.
- CO2 emissions from Motor vehicle make up 80% of the annual anthropogenic CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.
- Extensive deforestation (destruction) of a natural asset which has historically acted as carbon sinks that take carbon out of the atmosphere.
- Land Clearing, which has two dimensions. One is that of itself, clearing land drives global warming as it eliminates natural global sinks. A second is its use. if farming is involved and activities involve cattle grazing, society is removing a carbon sink and replacing it with destructive methane producing project.
- A wasteful consumption driven mode of living. Many countries produce much waste.
- Increasing world population.
- Distorted commercial ethics. The importance of the environment is often undervalued or even neglected in commercial deals. Typically, where a deal involves a trade-off between the environment and a commercial project, (such as, for example, those in mining, building, agricultural and other industries) the financial value assigned to the environment by decision makers, is typically low compared to the financial value assigned to the project.
4.3 Future threats and risks posed by ‘Tipping points and Feedback mechanisms’:
Measurements of the greenhouse gasses in the Atmosphere (in particular the Troposphere) before industrialization gave an average CO2 reading of 289 ppm. Recent atmospheric CO2 readings have reached a CO2 reading of 414 ppm of the troposphere in the year 2020 and have increased over this time by 1.5 degrees C. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recommended that world action be taken to keep the increase in average global temperature to that level. They consider that increases beyond this point would be dangerous for civilization because it may trigger dangerous events and outcomes in all five components as a result of passing various ‘tipping points’ or causing ’Feedback mechanisms’ to arise. Once a tipping point is passed or a Feedback mechanism becomes operative, there is no turning back. These risks and threats include:
CRYOSPHERE: Existing and future thawing and melting of the snow and ice in the Arctic and Antarctic will be particularly damaging:
- Incoming solar energy that that has historically been reflected away from the earth by ice and snow will no longer be reflected but absorbed by the earth’s system, further warming the earth.
- Rising sea levels, inundating low lying parts of continent and islands, destroying infra-structure, and causing widespread movements of people throughout the world.
- The thawing northern permafrost, an historic carbon sink, is already releasing, from massive historical underground inventories, small but increasing volumes, of dangerous methane gas, pathogens, and bacteria.
- Diseases historically confined to the Tropics, are progressively moving both northward and southwards.
HYDROSPHERE: Oceans and seas are carbon sinks, which are and warming, rising, acidifying, and thus:
- Jeopardising much natural sea life and under water ecosystems
- Releasing damaging carbon into the atmosphere intensifying the natural greenhouse effect and driving average world temperatures upwards.
- Threatening to submerge low lying land and islands and cause the mass movement of people
- Threatening infrastructure,
- Adversely affecting ocean currents and streams that are part of the current climate system.
ATMOSPHERE: A lot has already been said about the effect of warming on this component. Risks not mentioned include:
- Humanity driven depletion of the Ozone layer in the Stratosphere which protects the planet from ultra-violet radiation.
LITHOSPHERE: This component interacts continuously with the other four components and is affected by climate, as pointed out in John’s letter. However, the Lithosphere’s response time to any particular event can be on Geological time scales and as such may be overlooked.
BIOSPHERE: Damage to the functioning to the ecosystems and the loss of species diversity is global and is already at risk of irreversible change.
Clearly, Anthropogenically driven climate change is the standout challenge of our time and needs to be quickly remedied. There are however at least, two problems preventing this happening.
One is that notwithstanding the brilliance of the technical and economic achievements of Modern humanity since the start if industrialization, modern humanity (excluding indigenous peoples) has not learned how to collectively work with nature rather than working against it.
A second challenge is the attitude of self-interest prevailing throughout much of the world. The global Oil and gas industry is a notable example. The industry has made the average equivalent of $1 trillion annually for the last 50 years, yet it now interferes with proposed actions aimed stabilize global warming, as the recent Cop27 climate conference in Egypt showed. These, powerful, global, vested interests, did everything they could to prevent criticism of their industry and their destructive carbon based products. They prevented the conference developing and recommending worthwhile policies and targets (such as the IPCC’s recommendation that current planetary warming should not be allowed to go beyond 1.5 degrees C, above pre industrialization CO2 levels.) being adopted.
LETTER FROM JOHN XXX TO A NEWSPAPER (date not known)
Sir: The crux of manufactured CO2 causing climate change rests on being able to explain the thermodynamics of how 0.384% of CO2 can change the temperature of the earth, so can someone ‘please explain’ the thermodynamic function.
During the Federation Drought of 1895-1903 half the nation’s livestock died. Australia experienced twenty-seven drought years between 1788 and 1860, and at least ten major droughts between 1850-2000.
The great Drought, and subsequent Global Famine between 1875 and 1878 ravaged India, China and parts of Africa and South America (Maya), killed an estimated fifty million people.
North Africa and the centre of Australia once covered in forests; the fossilized remains are still there, in the Finke Gorge National Park at Palm Valley lives the rare ‘Livistona mariea’ a remnant of tropical forests of central Australia – a classic example of climate change.
In 1915 the Murray River dried up – it has never done that since. Explorer Charles Sturt’s Records show in 1828 it was a blistering 53.9 degrees C. In January 1896, a savage blast “like a furnace” stretched across Australia from east to west and lasted for weeks. The death toll reached 437 people in the eastern states, in Bourke the heat approached 120 degrees F (48.9 degrees C) on three days - long before industrialization.
So how are we to believe that climate change is a new phenomenon created by industrialization? Politicians owe us a factual explanation, not contrived theories.
THE NATURAL GREENHOUSE EFFECT
GREENHOUSE EFFECT – POST INDUSTRIALIZATION
THE HOCKEY STICK GRAPH