Petr Mach: The Questionable Theory of Global Warming

Newsletter CEPu, 01.02.2007

published: 01.02.2005, read: 10221×


According to the theory of global warming, the temperature on earth increases due to the emissions of so-called greenhouse gases - namely carbon dioxide - into the atmosphere. According to this theory, increasingly higher concentration of these gases in the air pushes a greater quantity of the Earth’s heat back, which warms up the planet, the source of emissions of these gases being the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) done by man, and the increasing temperature of the Earth may entail negative consequences for the nature as well as for the mankind. This is why burning of fossil fuels should allegedly be restricted by regulations.

While the general opinion supports the hypothesis about harmful global warming resulting from burning of fossil fuels, hard data do not support beyond all doubt the assertion that global warming is indeed happening and what is more, the theory does not prove that burning fossil fuels causes harm to the nature.

Ambiguous warming

First of all, let us point out that nobody knows the Earth’s temperature. We only know the temperature measured at individual locations. For instance, in Prague-Klementinum, the temperature has been measured daily since 1775. As the graph below shows, the temperature in Prague has been rising for 100 years, but it was decreasing during the 19th century, and some 230 years ago, the average temperature was not too much different from today’s temperatures.

Source: The Czech Hydro-meteorological Office

By averaging local temperatures, we can estimate the average global temperature. What is often presented as evidence of global warming actually represents the development of average temperatures measured at numerous meteorological stations according to which the average temperatures on the Earth are by one half of a degree Celsius higher in comparison to the temperature in 1950s to 1970s.

Is it, however, right to interpret this half-degree difference as evidence of man-induced global warming when similar variations happened in distant past too? If we compare the difference between the global average which is available from 1880 with the variation recorded in Klementinum data dating back to 1775, we see that the famous half-degree global temperature variation of the past twenty years does not vary significantly from the temperature development in the past. As it cannot be claimed that the drop in temperature in the 19th century was caused by man, it cannot be unequivocally alleged that the increase in temperatures in the 20th century is man-induced either.

Data source: The Czech Hydro-meteorological Office – Klementinum

Global deviation: NASA (http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/Fig.A2.txt))

There are objections that the averaged temperatures measured by meteorological stations are not accurate. Such stations are mainly located in developed countries of the Western hemisphere and thus are not telling of the temperatures on the whole planet. Moreover, they are often set up in cities which warm up locally because of their development, unlike the countryside. This objection is countered by the modern way of temperature measurement using satellite microwave sensors.

Since December 1978, the NASA, a US agency, carries out such systematic measurement of lower strata of the atmosphere – in the lower stratosphere (14 - 22 km above the surface of the Earth) and troposphere (air up to 9 km above the ground).

The graph below indicates clearly

that atmosphere does not show any global warming whatsoever. Even here, half-degree variations are absolutely normal. The scientists contribute two major variations of temperature in the atmosphere to the eruption of El Chichon volcano in Mexico (1982) and Pinatubo volcano in the Philippines (1991).[1]

Data source: NASA (www.ghcc.msfs.nasa.gov/temperature)

It follows from all the data above (and there is no better data) it cannot be alleged beyond all doubt that global warming is happening as a consequence of man’s activity. Many journalists, environmentalists and politicians who talk with conviction about global warming as fait accompli have most probably never seen these data. They simply believe that global warming exists. And consequently, the public believes in it too.

The Earth’s temperature is not fixed, but the climate has been always influenced by such elements as volcano eruptions or changes in the intensity of solar radiation that lie far beyond the powers of men.

CO2 belongs to the nature

According to the argument used in support of the global warming hypothesis, the burning of fossil fuels causes emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere; it forces the earth heath back, so a higher concentration must increase the temperature on the Earth.

Carbon dioxide is somewhat unfairly put into the same group with smoke, oxides of sulphur and other noxious substances. In reality, however, carbon dioxide is no pollutant at all. Carbon dioxide actually is the essential vital compound for all plants and consequently also for living creatures on the Earth. We emit CO2 while breathing or when we burn wood or coal. Plants absorb CO2 in order to live and living creatures in return consume plants. Carbon dioxide is not man’s invention, the volume of oxygen and carbon on our planet is the gift of nature.

The fate of every plant is either to burn, be consumed or rot, in other words turn eventually back into CO2. If we burn today ancient organisms in the form of oil and coal, we only return back to the atmosphere the gas out of which new organisms grow. The positive effect of CO2 emissions on biomass growth is admitted even by the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)[2], so often quoted by the proponents of the global warming theory.

There is no reason why the mankind should try to set a fixed concentration of CO2 in the air or a specific temperature of the Earth, e.g. the temperature of 1780.

Serious consequences of one theory

The theory of global warming has no solid support in data. CO2 emissions generated by the burning of fossils are not clearly harmful to the nature; on the contrary, it enables living nature to grow. Nonetheless, vocal advocates of this theory have succeeded to persuade many politicians of their hypotheses and the outcome is that we are all paying dear to reverse the trend which has not been clearly proved and is not detrimental per se.

The European Union forces its member states to stop producing energy from fossil fuels and instead to generate it from the so-called renewable resources. By burning the so-called biomass, we are, of course, emitting carbon dioxide, as is the case when burning coal! After all, coal, too, is biomass of its kind and when burnt, thanks to the emissions of carbon dioxide which supports plant growth, the renewal of biomass is taking place! A directive to produce energy using costly, i.e. less effective resources is thus questionable.

How much does this new energy policy initiated by the environmental movement cost us? Electricity produced from the so-called renewable resources is several times more expensive than energy made in traditional steam power plants by burning coal or produced in nuclear power plants by uranium fission. To ensure that somebody actually buys this expensive energy, the government orders, because of the EU directive, energy traders to compulsorily buy it. As customers, we pay additionally several thousand CZK for every megawatt-hour of energy produced from renewable resources. The European Union has set a target for the Czech Republic to produce 8% of energy from the so-called renewable resources by 2010 (Directive 77/2001 in force). In the instance of consumption amounting to 60 thousand GWh, this means 4,800,000 MWh, When we take the surcharge of CZK 2,000 for one MWh, each year, this regulation costs us CZK 10 billion, or on average CZK 1,000 to be paid by every Czech.

Let’s burn the coal when it’s here

The theory of global warming is built on shaky foundations. It is, at least, questionable to set ourselves costly complying with regulatory requirements on the basis of a questionable hypothesis. Coal, oil and gas are gifts of nature and by burning them, we emit into the nature valuable carbon dioxide which serves as a source for renewal of life in the nature. No feeling of guilt should take place because of burning coal, oil and gas. Alternative energy sources will surely be competitive in future. For the time being, however, it is more efficient to produce energy by burning fossil fuels. Let us not waste resources – ten billion Czech crowns should rather stay in the pockets of our citizens, so that they may use the money more effectively than politicians influenced by momentary moods of environmental pressure groups.

Petr Mach is executive director of the Center for Economics and politics, Prague, Czech Republic. Original Czech version was published in February 2007 (http://cepin.cz/docs/newslettery/2007-2.pdf)




Petr Mach

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