Happer’s Statement: CO2 will be a major benefit to the Earth
Dr. William Happer
Some people claim that increased levels of atmospheric CO2 will cause catastrophic global warming, flooding from rising oceans, spreading tropical diseases, ocean acidification, and other horrors. But these frightening scenarios have almost no basis in genuine science. This Statement reviews facts that have persuaded me that more CO2 will be a major benefit to the Earth.
Numbers are very important for a sensible discussion of climate. So I have included a few key equations and simple derivations of important results for readers with a technical background. I hope that less technically minded readers will not be put off by the equations. Most of the discussion should be understandable to anyone with an interest in the science of climate. I have also included Internet references for those who would like to dig deeper.
TheBestSchools.org’s Interview of me, to which I will occasionally refer, included Fig. 1. This shows the estimated CO2 levels during the Phanerozoic eon that began about 550 million years ago with the Cambrian, the first geological period with abundant, well-preserved fossils.
Figure 1. The ratio, RCO2, of past atmospheric CO2 concentrations to average values (about 300 ppm) of the past few million years, This particular proxy record comes from analyzing the fraction of the rare stable isotope 13C to the dominant isotope 12C in carbonate sediments and paleosols. Other proxies give qualitatively similar results.
The important message of Fig. 1 is that CO2 concentrations have been much higher than present values over most of the history of life. Even though CO2 concentrations were measured in thousands of parts per million by volume (ppm) over most of the Phanerozoic, not the few hundred ppm of today, life flourished in the oceans and on the land. Average pH values in the ocean surface were as low as pH = 7.7, a bit lower than the pH = 8.1 today. But this was still far from acidic, pH < 7, because of the enormous natural alkalinity of seawater. The mean global temperature was sometimes higher and sometimes lower than today’s. But the temperature did not correlate very well with CO2 levels. For example, there were ice ages in the Ordovician, some 450 million years ago, when the CO2 levels were several thousand ppm.
Discussions of climate today almost always involve fossil fuels. Some people claim that fossil fuels are inherently evil. Quite the contrary, the use of fossil fuels to power modern society gives the average person a standard of living that only the wealthiest could enjoy a few centuries ago. But fossil fuels must be extracted responsibly, minimizing environmental damage from mining and drilling operations, and with due consideration of costs and benefits. Similarly, fossil fuels must be burned responsibly, deploying cost-effective technologies that minimize emissions of real pollutants such as fly ash, carbon monoxide, oxides of sulfur and nitrogen, heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, etc.
Extremists have conflated these genuine environmental concerns with the emission of CO2, which cannot be economically removed from exhaust gases. Calling CO2 a “pollutant” that must be eliminated, with even more zeal than real pollutants, is Orwellian Newspeak. “Buying insurance” against potential climate disasters by forcibly curtailing the use of fossil fuels is like buying “protection” from the mafia. There is nothing to insure against, except the threats of an increasingly totalitarian coalition of politicians, government bureaucrats, crony capitalists, thuggish nongovernmental organizations like Greenpeace, etc.
Fig. 1 summarizes the most important theme of this discussion. It is not true that releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere is a dangerous, unprecedented experiment. The Earth has already “experimented” with much higher CO2 levels than we have today or that can be produced by the combustion of all economically recoverable fossil fuels.
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
For the complete article, go to TheBestSchools.org website at http://www.thebestschools.org/special/karoly-happer-dialogue-global-warming/happer-major-statement/