Climate modelers are having a problem. The global temperature is not cooperating with the way the modelers say it should if their theories are correct. We learned of their consternation from the “Climategate” emails: Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research said, “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment, and it is a travesty that we can’t.”
Now the modelers claim that China has saved the day by burning coal. A paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (written, by the way, by two geographers and two economists) claim that increased coal burning in China has put enough sulfur dioxide (SO2) in the air to block the alleged warming effect of carbon dioxide.
The logical, but perhaps absurd, conclusion of this claim is that we should abandon wind turbines and solar arrays, to burn much more coal.
If we stipulate that air quality near Chinese coal-burning power plants is foul, the question remains: is this a local effect or is it world-wide, enough to affect global temperature? Well, apparently the effect is not world-wide. The EPA measures air quality and the graph below shows that in the U.S., sulfur dioxide content of the air has been steadily decreasing. (Source )
This “China syndrome” seems to be another attempt to explain away the failings of climate modeling and the divergence between model predictions and real-world observations. Perhaps the IPCC had it right when they said in their Third Assessment Report: “In climate research and modeling, we should recognize that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the prediction of a specific future climate state is not possible.”
UPDATE: New NASA paper says volcanoes primarily responsible for increased SO2:
Recently, the trend, based on ground-based lidar measurements, has been tentatively attributed to an increase of SO(2) entering the stratosphere associated with coal burning in Southeast Asia. However, we demonstrate with these satellite measurements that the observed trend is mainly driven by a series of moderate but increasingly intense volcanic eruptions primarily at tropical latitudes.