WSJ and CO2

Last week the Wall Street Journal ran a ludicrous Op-Ed about how more carbon dioxide is good for the planet.  Here’s a snippet:

Contrary to what some would have us believe, increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will benefit the increasing population on the planet by increasing agricultural productivity.

The cessation of observed global warming for the past decade or so has shown how exaggerated NASA’s and most other computer predictions of human-caused warming have been—and how little correlation warming has with concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide. As many scientists have pointed out, variations in global temperature correlate much better with solar activity and with complicated cycles of the oceans and atmosphere. There isn’t the slightest evidence that more carbon dioxide has caused more extreme weather.

 

Wow.  For starters, I really wonder about the “many scientists” but even more so, one has to wonder if the authors know the meaning of “slightest” “evidence,” “extreme” or “weather.”

Most of the piece, though, is dedicated to an overly scientific explanation of CO2 in the plant life-cycle:

Using energy from sunlight—together with the catalytic action of an ancient enzyme called rubisco, the most abundant protein on earth—plants convert carbon dioxide from the air into carbohydrates and other useful molecules. Rubisco catalyzes the attachment of a carbon-dioxide molecule to another five-carbon molecule to make two three-carbon molecules, which are subsequently converted into carbohydrates. (Since the useful product from the carbon dioxide capture consists of three-carbon molecules, plants that use this simple process are called C3 plants.) C3 plants, such as wheat, rice, soybeans, cotton and many forage crops, evolved when there was much more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than today. So these agricultural staples are actually undernourished in carbon dioxide relative to their original design.

 

At the time I read and and looked around for a takedown, and was surprised not to find one.  Patience was rewarded as Slate’s Phil Plait rose to the task:

After reading dozens, hundreds, of such mind-numbing articles, I think we’ve found a winner. One that is so sweepingly wrong and based on such a ridiculous premise that it’s weapons-grade denial. Unsurprisingly, it was published in the Wall Street Journal, which has a lengthy history of printing reality-free OpEds about climate change. Perhaps surprisingly, it was penned by two actual scientists, William Happer and Harrison Schmitt. I’ll have more about them later.

I present to you the article, titled—seriously—“In Defense of Carbon Dioxide”. At least the title isn’t misleading; it really is an article that is saying, “Sure, we’re dumping vast amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, but don’t worry, because plants love it! We had lots more CO2in the air millions of years ago and everything was fantastic!”

If you think I’m being unfair or mischaracterizing the article in any way, then please go read it. You’ll see that is precisely what the article is stating. It is a piece of—if you’ll pardon the expression—breath-taking illogic and intellectual legerdemain.

However, it boils down to two basic and overwhelming problems: global effects of more CO2 in the air, and the rate of increase.

Read more from Plait for the details.  Needless to say, the summary of “sweepingly wrong” pretty much gets it.  What intrigued me, though, was the way in which this was presented so skillfully to fool the WSJ’s presumably educated (though, not scientifically so) readers.  Lots of precise scientific detail to make it sound like the authors really know what they are talking about.  And when it comes to how plants use CO2, I assume they actually do.  And then they just completely ignore the larger global implications.

I was trying to think about an analogy for this and I think I came up with a pretty decent one.  Presumably you are familiar with the use of corticosteroids, e.g., predisone, etc., in medical treatment.  They are amazing for treating all sorts of inflammation  (and even cancer), but have a huge downside– they suppress your immune system.  Obviously, that’s why they are always used on a strictly short-term basis.  Great local benefit, but longer term leads to a huge cost for the global system (i.e., your whole body).  It would be as if the authors penned an Op-Ed arguing that everybody should just be taking lots of predisone, providing a careful scientific explanation on the mechanism of action for anti-inflammation, etc., and then completely ignoring the fact that your body is going to be horribly compromised by your weakened immune system.

Sadly, this is just par for the course for the WSJ Op-Ed pages and the world of climate change denialism.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

9 Responses to WSJ and CO2

  1. pino says:

    For starters, I really wonder about the “many scientists”

    Have you ever read through the list of “scientists” that sign onto catastrophic global warming theories?

    The cessation of observed global warming for the past decade or so has shown how exaggerated NASA’s and most other computer predictions of human-caused warming have been

    Do you dent this? Do you think that warming has been in line with predictions?

    one has to wonder if the authors know the meaning of “slightest” “evidence,” “extreme” or “weather.”

    Do you?

    Most of the piece, though, is dedicated to an overly scientific explanation of CO2 in the plant life-cycle

    I’m confused. Science is good when it fits your narrative but bad when it doesn’t? Isn’t the global warming alarmists whole gig about science?

    Sadly, this is just par for the course for the WSJ Op-Ed pages and the world of climate change denialism.

    Except that they are not denying global warming, they are denying catastrophic global warming as advocated by alarmists. They accept that warming might be occurring but that in the levels we are seeing, it could be GOOD!

    • Mike from Canada says:

      Sure. Whats the worst that could happen? What with population headed past 7 billion and actual climate scientists say more heat means more chaos, more storms, more unpredictable weather. Lets just roll the dice and take our chances, even though we have no idea what will happen, except for the actual climate scientists who know best who say we can expect nothing good.

      Because that’s always been shown to be a good policy, right? Just roll the dice and see what happens? Well, no, not actually. The worst the possible consequences the more you need to control for risk. I thought business schools taught that, and that perhaps the WSJ might know that. Or are they teaching business leaders to simply stick their head in the sand as a method of contingency planning?

      The vast majority of climate scientists disagree with the authors of the Wall Street Journal editorial and it’s claims. The accepted science concerning CO2 and it’s effect on the atmosphere is diametrically apposed to what the article states. Yet again, here is the minority wealthy trying to overturn what what we know to be true for their own personal gain. And the actual climate scientists don’t say the future results are going to be bad, they say they are going to be worse then what is already happening.

      But perhaps you believe that the displacement of some one billion people “could be GOOD!”. Or perhaps the loss of massive amount of low lying cities “could be GOOD!”. Because this isn’t in question. This has started. Ice sheets all over the world are melting at rates never before seen in human history. And if you think this “could be GOOD!” then I would suggest you are ignoring evidence of rising sea levels and damage to infrastructure taking place right now. And it’s going to get worse. And this isn’t a guess or a roll of the dice. This isn’t being alarmist, this is cold hard reality happening right now. That your not paying attention doesn’t negate the facts of the situation.

      Lets not even talk about all that ice being fresh water supply for billions of people, and it’s all melting and flowing into the ocean. It will be unavailable as fresh water for drinking. Perhaps you think the world economy diverting trillions of dollars into the creation of fresh water reservoirs all over the world to ensure people don’t die of thirst, “Could be GOOD!”
      Money taken out of the economy as taxes. This isn’t guess work. This will happen, because snow packs will be shorter, where they exist at all. Snow packs are already disappearing all over the world. Are you not aware of droughts already taking place in the USA? Along with shrinking aquifers and smaller snow packs melting earlier? This is where many people get their water. But somehow, this “could be GOOD!”.

      I find it amusing that so many are gullible, taken in by rich megalomaniacs who don’t give a crap about them or anyone or anything but themselves. All the problems are going to fall on the middle class and poor. The rich who are financing the anti climate warming do nothing campaign are simply going to buy their way out of food shortages and every other problem. Perhaps you think that offloading the costs of moving cities and repairing infrastructure from the rich onto the taxpayers “could be GOOD!”.

      People who want a good outcome plan and work towards a good outcome. Because wishing, hoping and ignoring doesn’t do anything. Neither does ignoring obvious climate problems occurring around the world.

      • pino says:

        Neither does ignoring obvious climate problems occurring around the world.

        Quite a rant.

        But I think that before you continue you should understand a few things about “Global Warming”. The phrase has become a loaded concept. Wrapped in “Global Warming” is the idea that man made CO2 is causing warming AND the idea that we are facing a world ending catastrophe. So, when skeptics claim that we are not facing a world ending catastrophe we get labelled as deniers.

        So here’s the thing:

        1. We know that CO2 is a greenhouse gas
        2. We know that greenhouse gases cause the plant to warm
        3. We know that man is contributing to elevated CO2 levels
        4. We know that the earth is warming
        5. We can accept that the earth is warmer than it might have been had humans not released CO2

        However, the premise of the catastrophic global warming rests on the idea that the earth’s environment is a dramatic positive feedback environment. That is, a small degree of warming will cause an ever increasing degree of warming which in turn will generate even more warming until we tip and cannot come back.

        And THAT understanding of climate science is not well understood or agreed upon at all. In fact:

        http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21574461-climate-may-be-heating-up-less-response-greenhouse-gas-emissions

        OVER the past 15 years air temperatures at the Earth’s surface have been flat while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar. The world added roughly 100 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere between 2000 and 2010. That is about a quarter of all the CO₂ put there by humanity since 1750. And yet, as James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, observes, “the five-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade.”

        Temperatures fluctuate over short periods, but this lack of new warming is a surprise. Ed Hawkins, of the University of Reading, in Britain, points out that surface temperatures since 2005 are already at the low end of the range of projections derived from 20 climate models (see chart 1). If they remain flat, they will fall outside the models’ range within a few years.

        If you look at the data at the Economist you’ll see the representation that soon, very soon, the real world measured temps are going to be outside the expected temps as predicted by the alarmists.

        In short, we don’t understand what’s going on. And before we severely hamper our economy, and the prosperity of peoples all over the globe, we should look at see if the globe is responding in a manner consistent with our expectations. And it’s not.

        The world has seen dramatically higher temps in the past with much less CO2. Additionally, it’s seen much lower temps with lower levels of CO2.

        If there is a science denier in the climate change cocktail party, it isn’t the skeptic, it’s the alarmist.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Yes, I do know the meaning of these terms. And I’m well aware that climate scientists are the ones quite confident about global warming whereas “other” scientists are the source of the skeptics. The Plait piece takes on most of these points. Also, https://fullymyelinated.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/chart-of-the-day-107/
      https://fullymyelinated.wordpress.com/2012/07/30/climate-skeptics-won-over/

      • pino says:

        Yes, I do know the meaning of these terms.

        Here is some evidence of sever weather:

        and

        and

        Hardly evidence of a major increase in cyclone activity or intensity.

        And tornadoes?

        While the counts are up, mainly due to our increased ability to actually count the small one, we see that the major tornadoes are flat. This is due to the fact that even when we were poor at counting all tornadoes, we were good at counting BIG ones.

    • Mike from Canada says:

      For some reason I am unable to reply to your comment. So I’m replying to the earlier one.
      Pino said:
      “And THAT understanding of climate science is not well understood or agreed upon at all.”

      Actually, wrong. Climate scientists agree. When I want information on climate science, I look to climate scientists. Not mathematicians or political scientists (sorry Steve) or any of all the other non climate scientists who don’t agree, and yet are still a minority of all scientists.
      Even so, even if they were a majority of scientists who disagreed, which they are not, I still wouldn’t care, I trust those who are experts in the field being discussed. If you are not an expert in the field being discussed, you are not an expert at all. Your just some guy talking about stuff of which you are not an expert in. A political scientist making judgement on global warming has no more credence then I do. But they do have a good deal more credence talking about political science.

      And since you didn’t address anything I said, I will assume you don’t know, have no answer or simply didn’t read what I wrote. If you want to call it a rant, fine. But try talking to the issues rather then maintaining that your group of nobodies don’t agree with the actual experts.

      Ever hear of argument from authority? Your authorities are not authorities on the subject matter.

      I’ll also assume that you didn’t actually read the Economist article. While they may not be “alarmist” they do not make it as rosy as you seem to think.

      To be perfectly clear, you are saying “it could be good!”, yet, again I say, we are already seeing the damage done by a small increase in temperature, and your OWN Economist reference article says the global temperatures could increase another 3 degrees. Did you actually read the article, or did you just link to it?

      Ice fields all over the planet are melting at breakneck speed, the oceans are rising and we are seeing the effects of higher energy inputs during storms and higher storm surges, which have been forecast for the past thirty years and you are talking about the cost to the economy of doing something. The real authorities are in agreement. The concern isn’t about some problem in the future, the problems are happening now. They will continue to happen, regardless of if it continues to get warmer or not and they are going to cause untold trillions of dollars in damages and untold human and animal suffering.

      Your argument is not just wrong, it is entirely beside the point. It is thirty years too late because the damage is done. Now we must mitigate the damage and prevent more damage, just like any good business executive would. And there is no need to damage the economy to do so. Replace the energy supplies sourced by the same companies who are funding the disinformation campaigns that you have fallen for. Some countries are doing quite well through the process and decreasing their dependence on expensive foreign fossil fuels. What a concept. Your the one who is being alarmist, talking about damaging the world economy. Where is your proof? That’s just a talking point.

      Rebuttals are to the Economist are easy to find:

      http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/04/02/1807771/making-sense-of-climate-sensitivity-how-the-economist-and-msm-keep-getting-it-wrong/

      http://www.skepticalscience.com/hausfather-economist-sense-of-sensitivity.html

      • pino says:

        Actually, wrong. Climate scientists agree. When I want information on climate science, I look to climate scientists. Not mathematicians or political scientists (sorry Steve) or any of all the other non climate scientists who don’t agree, and yet are still a minority of all scientists.

        Hi Mike.

        So, I agree with you. When dealing with matters of the climate, you should go to climate scientists.

        In my line of work, I’m familiar with this. I’m in IT. But I’m a manager, not an expert in the inner workings of computers. So, when I’m planning, I ask my experts, “Gather all your data, get all the information you need, and then tell me when you expect X, Y and C.”

        When they give me the answer, I jot it down and wait.

        The Economist’s article seems to have done the same. The went back, found the climate scientists predictions of warming and then checked to see if they were right. And they don’t seem to be correct.

        And THAT is my point.

        If we are going to suffer cataclysmic effects of an ever warming planet, I would expect to see some warming.

        And we aren’t seeing that. The warming has paused. And you know what? The experts in climate science don’t know why. Which gives me very good reason to doubt that they have a strong grasp of climate science to begin with.

  2. Pingback: Introductions And Climate Change | Tarheel Red

  3. Mike from Canada says:

    Pino said:
    ” The warming has paused. And you know what? The experts in climate science don’t know why.”

    Whatever you and your ONE study says. Sure. Climate scientists are running around all confused. Sure. Oh, and since when does “paused” mean “stopped”? And is it paused? No.

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/05/20/2034261/we-would-all-like-climate-sensitivity-to-be-lower-but-it-isnt-says-lead-scientist-of-new-study/?mobile=nc&utm_source=feedly

    “Recent studies make clear the ocean is warming quite fast, as (see “Global Warming Has Accelerated In Past 15 Years, New Study Of Oceans Confirms” and here). If, as many climatologists believe, some of that ocean heat is released to the surface in the next decade or two, that would reverse the recent slowdown in the rate of surface warming.
    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/03/25/1768601/in-hot-water-global-warming-has-accelerated-in-past-15-years-new-study-of-oceans-confirms/

    Much like the last thirty years of temperature increases, many no or slow increases followed by sudden increases in temperature.
    Other recent studies find that the climate is more sensitive than we expected:

    ” Last Time CO2 Levels Hit 400 Parts Per Million The Arctic Was 14°F Warmer!”
    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/05/12/1993531/climate-sensitivity-stunner-last-time-co2-levels-hit-400-parts-per-million-the-arctic-was-14f-warmer/
    ” Observations Support Predictions Of Extreme Warming And Worse Droughts This Century”
    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/11/09/1170701/science-stunner-observations-support-predictions-of-extreme-warming-worse-droughts-this-century/
    ” Indeed, the new study does little to eliminate the confusion about sensitivity. The media continue to conflate and confuse climate sensitivity with how much warming will we subject our children and countless future generations to (see here and below).”

    “Our understanding of sensitivity is based on the Earth’s history, not on climate models, and we have good data on how the Earth responded in the past when carbon dioxide changed. So there is no reason to change the forecast for the long term.” – James Hansen
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/may/17/global-warming-not-stalled-climate

    Do you live in the USA? If so, good luck, because your going to need it. Because those warming numbers are averages and it’s expected to get a might warmer in the USA. Especially southern USA. And wacky weather. Climate scientists have agreed on that for forty years.

    Yes, I know. You don’t care about pesky facts, rising oceans, droughts, floods, or anything impinging on your right to ignore reality.

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