At the annual meeting of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Dr. Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace, put carbon dioxide in perspective and showed why policies and efforts to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide are not only futile, but also dangerous to life on Earth. You can read the full transcript of the speech here. Dr. Moore left Greenpeace when that organization lost its strong humanitarian orientation and became radicalized with the belief that humans are the enemies of the earth.
Dr. Moore believes that the current concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, 400ppm, is dangerously low and much lower that it has been for most of Earth’s history. He says we and the planet would be better off with a concentration closer to 2,000ppm.
Here are some excerpts from his speech:
Let’s begin with our knowledge of the long-term history of the Earth’s temperature and of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere. I will focus on the past 540 million years since modern life forms evolved. It is glaringly obvious that temperature and CO2 are in an inverse correlation at least as often as they are in any semblance of correlation. Two clear examples of reverse correlation occurred 150 million years and 50 million years ago. At the end of the Jurassic temperature fell dramatically while CO2 spiked. During the Eocene Thermal Maximum, temperature was likely higher than any time in the past 550 million years while CO2 had been on a downward track for 100 million years. This evidence alone sufficient to warrant deep speculation of any claimed lock-step causal relationship between CO2 and temperature.
The Devonian Period beginning 400 million years ago marked the culmination of the invasion of life onto the land. Plants evolved to produce lignin, which in combination with cellulose, created wood which in turn for the first time allowed plants to grow tall, in competition with each other for sunlight. As vast forests spread across the land living biomass increased by orders of magnitude, pulling down carbon as CO2 from the atmosphere to make wood. Lignin is very difficult to break down and no decomposer species possessed the enzymes to digest it. Trees died atop one another until they were 100 metres or more in depth. This was the making of the great coal beds around the world as this huge store of sequestered carbon continued to build for 90 million years. Then, fortunately for the future of life, white rot fungi evolved to produce the enzymes that can digest lignin and coincident with that the coal-making era came to an end.
A well-documented record of global temperature over the past 65 million years shows that we have been in a major cooling period since the Eocene Thermal Maximum 50 million years ago. The Earth was an average 16C warmer then, with most of the increased warmth at the higher latitudes. The entire planet, including the Arctic and Antarctica were ice-free and the land there was covered in forest.
The ancestors of every species on Earth today survived through what may have been the warmest time in the history of life. It makes one wonder about dire predictions that even a 2C rise in temperature from pre-industrial times would cause mass extinctions and the destruction of civilization. Glaciers began to form in Antarctica 30 million years ago and in the northern hemisphere 3 million years ago. Today, even in this interglacial period of the Pleistocene Ice Age, we are experiencing one of the coldest climates in the Earth’s history.
Coming closer to the present we have learned from Antarctic ice cores that for the past 800,000 years there have been regular periods of major glaciation followed by interglacial periods in 100,000 year-cycles. These cycles coincide with the Milankovitch cycles that are tied to the eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit and its axial tilt. It is highly plausible that these cycles are related to solar intensity and the seasonal distribution of solar heat on the Earth’s surface. There is a strong correlation between temperature and the level of atmospheric CO2 during these successive glaciations, indicating a possible cause-effect relationship between the two. CO2 lags temperature by an average of 800 years during the most recent 400,000-year period, indicating that temperature is the cause, as the cause never comes after the effect.
Looking at the past 50,000 years of temperature and CO2 we can see that changes in CO2 follow changes in temperature. This is as one could expect, as the Milankovitch cycles are far more likely to cause a change in temperature than a change in CO2. And a change in the temperature is far more likely to cause a change in CO2 due to out-gassing of CO2 from the oceans during warmer times and an in-gassing (absorption) of CO2 during colder periods. Yet climate alarmists persist in insisting that CO2 is causing the change in temperature, despite the illogical nature of that assertion.
Coming back to the relationship between temperature and CO2 in the modern era we can see that temperature has risen at a steady slow rate in Central England since 1700 while human CO2 emissions were not relevant until 1850 and then began an exponential rise after 1950. This is not indicative of a direct causal relationship between the two. After freezing over regularly during the Little Ice Age the River Thames froze for the last time in 1814, as the Earth moved into what might be called the Modern Warm Period.
There was a 30-year period of warming from 1910-1940, then a cooling from 1940 to 1970, just as CO2 emissions began to rise exponentially, and then a 30-year warming from 1970-2000 that was very similar in duration and temperature rise to the rise from 1910-1940. One may then ask “what caused the increase in temperature from 1910-1940 if it was not human emissions? And if it was natural factors how do we know that the same natural factors were not responsible for the rise between 1970-2000.” You don’t need to go back millions of years to find the logical fallacy in the IPCC’s certainty that we are the villains in the piece.
Coming to the core of my presentation, CO2 is the currency of life and the most important building block for all life on Earth. All life is carbon-based, including our own. Surely the carbon cycle and its central role in the creation of life should be taught to our children rather than the demonization of CO2, that “carbon” is a “pollutant” that threatens the continuation of life. We know for a fact that CO2 is essential for life and that it must be at a certain level in the atmosphere for the survival of plants, which are the primary food for all the other species alive today. Should we not encourage our citizens, students, teachers, politicians, scientists, and other leaders to celebrate CO2 as the giver of life that it is?
It is a proven fact that plants, including trees and all our food crops, are capable of growing much faster at higher levels of CO2 than present in the atmosphere today. Even at the today’s concentration of 400 ppm plants are relatively starved for nutrition. The optimum level of CO2 for plant growth is about 5 times higher, 2000 ppm, yet the alarmists warn it is already too high. They must be challenged every day by every person who knows the truth in this matter. CO2 is the giver of life and we should celebrate CO2 rather than denigrate it as is the fashion today.
Let’s look at where all the carbon is in the world, and how it is moving around.
Today, at just over 400 ppm CO2 there are 850 billion tons of CO2 in the atmosphere. By comparison, when modern life-forms evolved over 500 million years ago there was nearly 15,000 billion tons of CO2 in the atmosphere, 17 times today’s level. Plants and soils combined contain more than 2,000 billion tons of carbon, more that twice as much as the entire global atmosphere. The oceans contain 38,000 billion tons of dissolved CO2, 45 times as much as in the atmosphere. Fossil fuels, which were made from plants that pulled CO2 from the atmosphere account for 5,000 – 10,000 billion tons of carbon, 6 – 12 times as much carbon as is in the atmosphere.
But the truly stunning number is the amount of carbon that has been sequestered from the atmosphere and turned into carbonaceous rocks. 100,000,000 billion tons, that’s one quadrillion tons of carbon, have been turned into stone by marine species that learned to make armour-plating for themselves by combining calcium and carbon into calcium carbonate. Limestone, chalk, and marble are all of life origin and amount to 99.9% of all the carbon ever present in the global atmosphere. The white cliffs of Dover are made of the calcium carbonate skeletons of coccolithophores, tiny marine phytoplankton.
The vast majority of the carbon dioxide that originated in the atmosphere has been sequestered and stored quite permanently in carbonaceous rocks where it cannot be used as food by plants.
Beginning 540 million years ago at the beginning of the Cambrian Period many marine species of invertebrates evolved the ability to control calcification and to build armour plating to protect their soft bodies. Shellfish such as clams and snails, corals, coccolithofores (phytoplankton) and foraminifera (zooplankton) began to combine carbon dioxide with calcium and thus to remove carbon from the life cycle as the shells sank into sediments; 100,000,000 billion tons of carbonaceous sediment. It is ironic that life itself, by devising a protective suit of armour, determined its own eventual demise by continuously removing CO2 from the atmosphere. This is carbon sequestration and storage writ large. These are the carbonaceous sediments that form the shale deposits from which we are fracking gas and oil today. And I add my support to those who say, “OK UK, get fracking”.
The past 150 million years has seen a steady drawing down of CO2 from the atmosphere. There are many components to this but what matters is the net effect, a removal on average of 37,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere every year for 150 million years. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was reduced by about 90% during this period. This means that volcanic emissions of CO2 have been outweighed by the loss of carbon to calcium carbonate sediments on a multi-million year basis.
If this trend continues CO2 will inevitably fall to levels that threaten the survival of plants, which require a minimum of 150 ppm to survive. If plants die all the animals, insects, and other invertebrates that depend on plants for their survival will also die.
How long will it be at the present level of CO2 depletion until most or all of life on Earth is threatened with extinction by lack of CO2 in the atmosphere?
During this Pleistocene Ice Age, CO2 tends to reach a minimum level when the successive glaciations reach their peak. During the last glaciation, which peaked 18,000 years ago, CO2 bottomed out at 180 ppm, extremely likely the lowest level CO2 has been in the history of the Earth. This is only 30 ppm above the level that plants begin to die. Paleontological research has demonstrated that even at 180 ppm there was a severe restriction of growth as plants began to starve. With the onset of the warmer interglacial period CO2 rebounded to 280 ppm. But even today, with human emissions causing CO2 to reach 400 ppm plants are still restricted in their growth rate, which would be much higher if CO2 were at 1000-2000 ppm.
Here is the shocking news. If humans had not begun to unlock some of the carbon stored as fossil fuels, all of which had been in the atmosphere as CO2 before sequestration by plants and animals, life on Earth would have soon been starved of this essential nutrient and would begin to die. Given the present trends of glaciations and interglacial periods this would likely have occurred less than 2 million years from today, a blink in nature’s eye, 0.05% of the 3.5 billion-year history of life.
There is much more in Moore’s speech; follow the link above to read the whole thing.
For more information on climate change, see the Climate in Perspective page to link to my 28-page essay on climate myths and reality.