Schmitt and Happer manufacture doubt
Posted on 15 May 2013 by Dumb Scientist
Dr. Harrison Schmitt and Dr. William Happer, who have scientific backgrounds but are not climate scientists, just wrote an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal. Despite their claims, global warming continues. This continued warming is confirmed by GRACE, ICESat, InSAR, GPS, and camera observations of ice sheet mass loss, which absorb heat without warming as they melt. The continued warming is also confirmed by global sea ice loss, which absorbs heat without warming as it melts. The continued warming is also confirmed by increasing global ocean heat content, which absorbs heat without warming the surface... until it’s released in an El Niño.
They also dispute that humans are very likely responsible for most of the warming since 1950. But solar activity hasn't increased significantly since 1950, and studying "complicated cycles of the oceans and atmosphere" is why NOAA, NASA, and the National Academy of Sciences exist. They're saying that the rate at which heat escapes Earth has slowed due to our emissions of heat-trapping gases like CO2.
If Schmitt and Happer want to dispute mainstream science, they should do so in a peer-reviewed science journal, not The Wall Street Journal. Neither of them have published any peer-reviewed articles on climate science, despite being experts in other fields.
Then they dispute that global warming is a problem, by mentioning that CO2 levels were much higher in the distant past... when alligators roamed the Arctic, and most of Florida was underwater. That climate was radically different than the one our civilization is adapted to, and CO2 is already higher than it's been in millions of years.
Scientists are actually concerned about the unprecedented rate of our CO2 emissions. The CO2 emissions rate from the Siberian Traps eruption (which lasted a million years) caused warming and ocean acidification that preceded the end-Permian extinction, 250 million years ago. Today, our CO2 emissions rate is ten times faster than that of the Siberian Traps.
Schmitt and Happer mention that plants have fewer stomata when CO2 levels are higher, allowing them to conserve water. This is an example of a negative feedback which reduces the biosphere's sensitivity to changes in CO2, but they ignore larger positive feedbacks where CO2-induced warming stresses ecosystems. For example, the 2010 Russian wheat crisis shows that our crops aren't drought-proof despite CO2 levels unseen in millions of years.
They compare the natural biosphere to an artificial greenhouse where humans work hard to reduce competition with weeds and pests. Another lesson from the ancient climate is the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, when rapid CO2 emissions caused warming that preceded marine extinctions, and a spike in leaf damage caused by insects. Kudzu, pine beetles, desert locusts and jellyfish thrive when it warms. Rice doesn't: it grows 10% less with every 1.8°F of night-time warming.
In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences and a dozen other science academies told world leaders that “the need for urgent action to address climate change is now indisputable.”
Scientists aren't the only ones concerned about risk management: large insurance companies like Munich Re, Swiss Re and Allianz have already noticed increased damages that are partially due to climate change. In 2010, the Pentagon said “Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.”
World leaders ignored them. So here I'll speak as a volunteer for the Citizens Climate Lobby rather than as a scientist:
Australia and British Columbia have already stopped their coal plants from treating our atmosphere like a free sewer. They did this by charging the fossil fuel industry for their carbon pollution, then returning these fees to citizens as dividends.
Republicans Art Laffer and Bob Inglis agree that this revenue-neutral approach is fiscally conservative. Instead of taxing something we want more of, like income, let’s tax something we need less of: carbon pollution.